This time, Bill O'Brien wastes little time in getting Ryan Fitzpatrick out of a preseason game.
But the first-year Houston Texans coach still denies Case Keenum a real chance at making his best case. For when Fitzpatrick gets pulled after leading the Texans to seven points in two drives against the Hard Knocks celebrity Atlanta Falcons, rookie Tom Savage is the one sent jogging into the game.
It's Savage, the fourth round pick out of Pittsburgh regarded by many as O'Brien's Chosen One who gets the first crack after Fitzpatrick.
Keenum inexplicably — and unexpectedly — loses his grip on the No. 2 quarterback job. For at least one night. So much for Keenum's stint playing with the first team offense briefly in practice this week meaning anything. When the game action arrives — albeit preseason game action — it's Savage, the fourth round pick out of Pittsburgh regarded by many as O'Brien's Chosen One who gets the first crack after Fitzpatrick.
Keenum doesn't get into the game until the first offensive play of the third quarter. By then, all the offensive starters are long gone.
O'Brien gives no indication after the game that Keenum did anything to deserve the demotion, only saying that he wanted to "put Savage in there and see how he would react to that situation — to being in there fairly early in the game."
This a week after O'Brien played Fitzpatrick the entire first half, a nearly unheard of run for a starting quarterback in an opening preseason game, limiting Keenum to five pass attempts. It's enough to make one wonder if O'Brien's already written Keenum off while giving a 26-year-old who showed flashes of super potential last season no real chance to change his mind.
Once he's in the game, Keenum almost immediately completes a nice 18-yard sideline throw to former Texas A&M wide receiver Travis Labhart and a 12-yarder to Keshawn Martin. But he later misses tight end Ryan Griffin and the Texans have to settle for a 40-yard Randy Bullock field goal on the drive.
The 24-year-old Savage doesn't do much with his earlier first opportunity, completing three passes for a measly four yards in his second quarter action. He adds a four-yard completion (his longest of the night) on third-and-14 — in his only fourth quarter throw. The big arm that's made appearances in practices is nowhere to be found. Savage's early action mostly consists of handing the ball off to Jonathan Grimes. And then, suddenly, Fitzpatrick is put back into the game to run a two-minute drill in the closing 85 seconds of the first half.
Maybe O'Brien just doesn't do anything conventional when it comes to quarterbacks.
One plus is that Fitzpatrick certainly looks better — and much more comfortable and confident — in this second preseason game than he did in his absolute clunker of an opener. The veteran journeyman turns that unconventional, end-of-the-half second chance opportunity into six points. That's two touchdowns in three drives for O'Brien's preferred starter choice and a nifty 5 of 6 passing line in the two-minute drill.
Fitzpatrick looks at his best on the run, moving around the pocket to extend plays and find open receivers on the sprint and outright scrambling for several big first downs.
The Harvard man seizes his second chance in a 32-7 Texans win. Case Keenum will have to keep waiting — and waiting — for any early game chance.
Playing the bulk of the third and fourth quarter, Keenum finishes 6 of 12 for 81 yards, including a 25-yard strike on a slant to Alec Lemon and an interception into coverage. Playing with all backups, Keenum leads the Texans to a commanding 121-26 advantage in third quarter yardage.
"I thought he did some decent things," O"Brien says of Keenum afterwards. "He led some good drives. He has good command of the offense. He's getting better. He's a guy that works extremely hard, he's a really good teammate. He comes in early, he stays late.
"He just needs to keep improving."
And keep hoping his coach will give him a real chance with the first or second team someday.