Tom Savage stands in front of a laundry basket in the still 75-man cramped Houston Texans locker room. The rookie quarterback is unshaven with a Texans hat covering his hair. He looks beat.
A long preseason's finally come to merciful end, the chaser to an exhausting training camp. Savage's had a tough night, throwing a Pick-6, showing no ability to get the ball down the field against San Francisco 49ers backups and several soon-to-be cut defensive backs. But he's still standing there at the end of the long night, taking a few minutes to talk about it with reporters.
"Trust me, it sucks to lose," Savage blurts, before quickly coming back with, "Excuse my language."
It's an endearing little self correction, part of a larger moment that says a little something about the young quarterback's poise.
Keenum has to know better. It looks like he is running from a rough night, adding to the perception that this performance means more than it does.
Savage will talk about this 40-13 preseason finale loss to the 49ers like it's a game that actually means something, which his no-nonsense coach no doubt appreciates (even though it's decidedly a loss that means absolutely nothing).
"Obviously it wasn't a good performance," Savage says.
Case Keenum doesn't have a good performance either — and unlike Savage, he doesn't do anything to save it in the postgame. Keenum is gone from the locker room before the media is even let in. It's a rare misstep from a guy who has been in the very public eye of this city for nearly a decade now.
With the way Keenum's been treated by large segments of the Houston media since he emerged as a factor with the Texans (particularly the Syracuse cabal that seems to rule local sports talk radio), it's understandable why he'd have the urge to just walk away without talking. But Keenum has to know better. He has to understand how that will play. It looks like Keenum is running from a rough night, adding to the perception that this performance means more than it does.
I've defended Arian Foster from the criticism of reporters upset with the way he talks to them and answers questions. But not talking at all after a game when you're one of the key figures in that game is something else entirely. Even if it is essentially an overblown practice game.
If there are outside circumstances that made Keenum need to leave the locker room so early, he needs to make sure that's passed along to the media through a Texans PR official that night.
That's what the preseason is all about. Big steps for players who need to make a statement.
It's not a good look. It doesn't mean Case Keenum is in dire danger of getting cut. That idea — particularly the notion that teams are going to dump better quarterback options on the waiver wire — is still a clueless take. Keenum's shown more talent than anyone who will be let go and he made some good throws again on Thursday night — particularly on some strikes to the sidelines and darts on the run. Bill O'Brien is unlikely to make the type of mistaking that jettisoning Keenum for nothing clearly would be.
Which doesn't mean O'Brien won't keep the pressure on. He's not a coach who is about making guys feel good after a loss. Even an utterly meaningless one.
"It wasn't very good," O'Brien says when asked about Keenum and Savage's night after the two quarterbacks lead the Texans to a combined 155 yards of total offense and two field goals.
Keenum plays steady if unspectacular in his first quarter. He looks particularly good on several sideline throws, including a 15-yard strike to Keshawn Martin to convert a third-and-11. Keenum puts the ball where only a tip-tapping Martin can get it. The former University of Houston star leads another long, clock chewing drive as well.
When Keenum's put back in to run a two-minute drill with 1:12 left in the first half, things don't go as well. Keenum's picked off when DeVier Posey appears to run the wrong route. The ball ends up nowhere near a Texan and the 49ers quickly convert the turnover into seven points. It's the type of end of the half momentum swing that O'Brien's been harping against.
Even if Posey messes up there, Keenum needs to be aware enough not to throw the football. No matter what the receiver does, it's on the quarterback too.
Whitney Mercilus Goes Playbook Crazy
The just-let-it-be-over finale preseason game is often a complete letdown dud, but some Texans do seize it.
Faced with the indignity of playing in the fourth preseason game, no small slight for a former first round draft pick, linebacker Whitney Mercilus swallows his pride and just makes plays. It's no small step for Mercilus.
Afterwards, O'Brien notes that Mercilus is playing "with better knowledge of the scheme." In other words, Mercilus took the kick to the butt to heart and learned his playbook.
It's a rare misstep from a guy who has been in the very public eye of this city for nearly a decade now.
That's what the preseason is all about. Big steps for players who need to make a statement. It's seventh-round pick Andre Hal out fighting 49ers rookie wideout L'Damian Washington for the football and returning it 77 yards for a doubt-killing Pick-6. It is Hal's second interception touchdown return of the preseason. The Vanderbilt kid is a playmaker. He needs to be on this roster.
"I'm just happy my mom was able to see it," Hal says, smiling. "She came to every one of my games at Vanderbilt and those were an eight-hour drive. I'm a lot closer now."
Now the Louisiana kid just needs to survive cut day and give his mom reason to make more joyful Sunday trips.
A few feet from Hal, cramped by the temporary blue rookie lockers in the middle of the room, Savage prepares to meet the press. Which mostly seems to consist of putting on that hat. Savage hardly seems fazed or anxious. Even the iced-up bruised knee he doesn't even remember hurting doesn't seem to be causing any consternation.
"Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to be the only pick I throw in my career," Savage says of his Pick-6 baptism. "So I just got to keep getting better and learn from my mistakes."
The rookie's ready for the next question. Case Keenum's no where to be found. Keenum must know that's not a good picture — no matter how little it means in the big picture.