The Texans played with heart. Their defense tormented Tom Brady. They did almost everything they needed to do to have a chance to upset the mighty Patriots.
Then Brock Osweiler happened. Three second-half interceptions doomed the Texans to a 34-16 loss, yet another failure in Foxboro.
There is no shame in losing to the Patriots. In all likelihood, two more teams will suffer that fate.
The Texans defense was outstanding, and deserved better than the final score. But the predictable special teams miscue — allowing yet another kickoff return for a touchdown in the playoffs — and the offense’s inability to take advantage of Brady’s rare turnovers led to another setback.
So where do the Texans go from here?
Osweiler said his usual bit after the game. Talking about his interceptions, he said “That’s my fault. I’ll clean that up,” the same thing he said after his 14 regular season starts and two postseason starts.
He should not get the chance to “clean that up.” The Texans are stuck with Osweiler on the roster for another year, but priority No. 1 should be fixing the position that has bedeviled the franchise since its inception. He should be a third-string, clipboard carrier next year.
The Texans simply have to go out and try again at the position. Whether it is the peanut brittle, off-injured Tom Savage, a current backup with pedigree — A.J. McCarron, Jimmy Garrapolo or Brett Hundley, for instance — or a high draft pick, once again the team has to start over.
The head coach needs to make changes as well. Bill O’Brien spent the last two weeks letting his people leak word that he might be leaving. He gave cryptic quotes. Then he finally said he was staying, ostensibly because all the other jobs filled, and maybe because there wasn’t the interest in him that his agents and O’Brien expected. It would be hard for anyone to look at the Texans offense, led by an offensive-minded coach, and say “I want that guy.”
So in his “big announcement” that he was staying, O’Brien said for the millionth time, “I’ve got to do a better job.”
That starts with fixing the side of the ball he was tasked to improve. That starts with coaching.
O’Brien is a terrible play caller, and his shower buddy George Godsey is no better. Godsey has to be fired, and a real OC with a head coaching pedigree needs to be brought in. Norv Turner? Chip Kelley? Anyone would be an improvement. The offensive line needs help, too. It should get better with the return of Nick Martin and Derek Newton, but significant resources — either a high pick or free agent money — need to be invested in another player. And while Martin looks promising, he has never taken a snap in the NFL. So changes are needed there. A new offensive line coach should be on the agenda as well.
Defensively, J.J. Watt and Kevin Johnson will be back and should provide a nice boost. Vince Wilfork is likely gone to retirement, but the emergence of D.J. Reader should mitigate that. Jonathan Joseph will likely be a cap casualty unless he renegotiates, and A.J. Bouye and Quintin Demps are free agents who need to be brought back. But the defense should be just as good if not better next season.
The bad news? A 9-7 record won’t cut it in the AFC South next year. Tennessee matched that, has a franchise QB and another high draft pick. Jacksonville has the best young cornerback in the game, another high pick and finally a capable coach. The Colts have Andrew Luck.
The Texans should improve, but so will the competition. They are at a major crossroads; the window with this defense is a couple more years. The offense has to catch up, and that needs to happen fast. It starts with the quarterback and the OC. Unless those moves happen, we will hear the same old stuff next season about having to “clean up mistakes” and “coach better.”
It’s time to clean up the mistakes in the off-season. And get better coaching on offense.
Or else this will be the best the Texans ever do under O’Brien.