The ball hits Keshawn Martin in the hands right when the wide receiver cuts open, right when he needs it.
Recalling the play — a 22-yard gain that kick starts a touchdown drive — the Houston Texans second-year wideout breaks into a smile. That's Case Keenum. He gives you a chance to make a play.
"Case gets that ball out quick," Martin says. "He does a good job of that."
Keenum's good jobs are getting harder and harder to ignore. He puts up more points in the Texans' 24-17 preseason win over Miami Dolphins, playing as the second quarterback in front of the home crowd. He leaves little doubt he's in command of Gary Kubiak's offense. And at this point it's clear: Case Keenum deserves to be the clear leader in the race for the Texans' No. 2 quarterback spot.
There's no dismissing that anymore. You can hear its echo in the locker room now too.
"Case is playing like he wants to be the starter," Martin says.
In two preseason games — and a little less than fourth quarters of action overall — Keenum's led the Texans on five scoring drives and produced 27 points.
That's not going to happen. And Martin isn't suggesting it should. Matt Schaub is a borderline elite NFL quarterback — and despite all the shots he takes, only a few quarterbacks in the entire league played better than Schaub through the bulk of last season. As in one or two.
But Martin's overall point still stands. Keenum is playing with the confidence of an NFL starting quarterback.
And if he keeps playing this well, it will be blatantly unfair if incumbent T.J. Yates hangs onto the No. 2 job. No one promises that pro football is fair though. There all sorts of supposedly safe and practical reasons for Texans coach Gary Kubiak to resist giving Keenum a job he's winning. But they almost all come down to one thing: Coaching scared.
A coach might want to consider how that would play in the locker room.
"Case is making a big push," all-world wide receiver Andre Johnson says.
"Case, man, he's doing his thing," veteran defensive end Antonio Smith says. "They're both playing well. But Case . . . he's doing his thing."
The Texans players are not taking sides in the backup quarterback battle. Johnson also notes how both Yates and Keenum are "playing their butts off." But you don't fool NFL vets. They've been aware long before a doubting media of the level Keenum is performing at. They don't look at him as a long shot in the race.
"(Case) can throw the ball as well as anyone," tight end Owen Daniels says.
There are still two preseason games to go. Yates still could separate himself. But Keenum is competing with a ferocity that a Brian Cushing could appreciate. Even if, in Keenum's case, that ferocity almost all plays out on the inside. The quarterback who smiles all game long isn't as happy-go-lucky as you might think.
"I can't waste time," Keenum says. "Every opportunity I get with this team is so precious. That's what I keep telling myself."
A Quarterback's Moment
Case Keenum runs out with the second team against the Dolphins, his chance in his hands. He's never played this early in any type of NFL game before.
"It was fun," Keenum says of getting into the game on the fourth offensive series. "It was quick."
"Case is playing like he wants to be the starter."
The former University of Houston record breaker is used to waiting for his opportunities. His first pass hits rookie DeAndre Hopkins for 13 yards on a slant over the middle. The drive stalls though and soon the Texans are punting.
Keenum's second drive is a different story — a quick 68-yard drive of final-results beauty. It starts with that 22-yard pass to Martin that shows how quick Keenum's release can be. This is an instant read and decision. And the ball's gone in a flash.
Later, on fourth-and-2 from the Dolphins' 38, Keenum gives the play time to develop — and goes for it. The result? A 38-yard touchdown pass to Lestar Jean in the right corner of the end zone. The pass has just the right amount of the air. The ball hits Jean in stride. The entire drive takes 119 seconds.
A short-field chance in the two-minute drill produces more points, though the Texans have to settle for a Randy Bullock field goal after Keenum overthrows long-shot rookie Alec Lemon on two consecutive end zone looks.
In two preseason games — and a little less than fourth quarters of action overall — Keenum's led the Texans on five scoring drives and produced 27 points. Not bad for a guy who keeps getting dismissed by a local media that largely seems to resent his popularity.
And he spends a lot of his postgame interview time praising the competition. That's Keenum too.
"I thought T.J. did well," Keenum says. "He moved the ball like he always does."
And at this point it's clear: Keenum deserves to be the clear leader in the race for the No. 2 spot.
Yates shows none of the jitteriness that marked his own preseason opener. The floating, too-high passes are gone, replaced by confident throws. The third-year quarterback does some rolling out of his own, leaving the pocket to hit tight end Garrett Graham for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
In two preseason games — playing once as the first quarterback off the bench and once as the second, the same as Keenum — Yates has produced only two scoring drives and 14 points though. It's impossible to argue that Keenum hasn't been more efficient with Kubiak's offense.
Yates' personal numbers are good on this night — 7 of 9 for 84 yards, a gaudy 142.6 quarterback rating. But the Texans' offense looks more dangerous with Keenum under center.
Two more games like this and Keenum needs to be named the No. 2. Right now, there is more of a gap than many want to let on. Fair is fair. Right is right. And NFL players know. You don't fool pros.