The Texans defense gave Tom Brady and the Patriots offense a run for their money Saturday night in a 34–16 divisional-round loss. While the final score might not show it, the mostly overlooked Houston–New England matchup actually produced the most competitive game we’ve seen so far in this year’s postseason. For Houston, it’s a feeble consolation prize.
The Texans picked off Brady twice — that equaled his regular-season total in interceptions, by the way — which led to two field goals and helped keep it a one-score game early into the fourth quarter. Ultimately, that swarming, aggressive defensive performance was betrayed by a Brock Osweiler–led offense that converted only three of 16 third downs. Houston’s anemic offensive attack was just another reminder of how far it remains from becoming a true Super Bowl contender. With even an average offense, the Texans might’ve found a way to upset New England. Instead, they gained just 285 total yards and mustered only 16 points.
Osweiler, who is apparently the Texans’ starter again (did I imagine Brock getting benched in Week 15? Why did we not see any of Tom Savage in this game?), finished with 4.95 yards per attempt — 198 yards on 40 passes — with one touchdown and three interceptions. Osweiler did make one nice throw in the game: a deep bomb which Will Fuller dropped in the end zone. But if there was any glimmer of hope among Texans fans that Osweiler might be the answer at quarterback after his solid performance last week against the Raiders, it has been snuffed out. We saw the same guy that we’ve seen all year. Which is very, very bad, because the Texans are stuck with him.
With no feasible way to get out of the Osweiler contract — he would count for $25 million in dead money against the cap next year if he were released — the Texans seem to be stuck in the football version of Groundhog Day, the type of never-ending waking nightmare that wastes the prime years of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and DeAndre Hopkins. So what comes next? How do they get themselves out of this frustrating cycle?
There doesn’t seem to be an easy path. Osweiler will likely compete for the starting job again next season, as will Savage, who looked passable as a starter in limited action this season. Houston can hope to hit the draft lottery and find a rookie that can compete for the job in Year 1. Past that, the Texans could look to add offensive weaponry or bolster their offensive line in free agency to take some pressure off of the quarterback, but none of that will matter if they can’t find a guy who will distribute the ball to Hopkins and the stable of receivers running downfield. And while Bill O’Brien’s job appears safe for the time being, he’s in a tenuous spot. The third-year coach has managed to make the most of a bad quarterback situation, but his role in the decision to sign Osweiler looms large and could define his tenure with the franchise.
The fact is, Osweiler’s deal puts the Texans in a bind, and it’s hard to imagine that we’ll find Houston in anything but the exact same situation next season that they were in this year: a team with a great defense that’s held back once again by an inept offense.