ARLINGTON — The night's supposed to be about the great backup quarterback race. Case Keenum and T.J. Yates show up ready to duel, but the opposition turns out to be a complete dud.
How 'bout them Cowboys backups?
OK, maybe not. David Carr would be headed for Canton if he got to regularly play against the "depth" that Jason Garrett has built with these Dallas Cowboys. The Houston Texans are light years ahead of the Cowboys in terms of having a complete, talent-laden roster.
And anyone at Jerry World Thursday night can see it.
"We've got a good team here in Houston," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips says, holding court in the middle of an unfamiliar visitors locker room in his Dallas return. "We've got the opportunity to go all the way."
How about a little pride? The slightest sign of a pulse?
After five preseason games and three years of Jason Garrett, the Cowboys still have no idea what they have an opportunity to do. It's business as usual on 1 Legends Way.
Texans 24, Cowboys 6.
The Cowboys aren't just beaten. They're battered and embarrassed. Sure, this is largely a game of third, fourth and fifth stringers, the usually all unimportant final preseason game. But how about a little pride? The slightest sign of a pulse?
Heck, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak and Phillips are the only ones who take umbrage when undrafted free agent Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye pulls a Terrell Owens and celebrates on the Cowboys star after intercepting a pass. These scrub Cowboys are too listless to even notice.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Texans hold a 20-8 advantage in first downs and a 427-178 advantage in total yards. The Cowboys need garbage time in the final preseason game to eke out over 200 yards of total offense. They go three-and-out on two of their first three possessions, cross the Texans 50 only twice in the first half.
Maybe Tony Romo really is underrated.
"Our second guys really played well, our backup guys shut them down," Phillips says. "We didn't play 14 guys."
Those would be the best guys on defense of course. The Texans' depth is most apparent in the strengthened Bulls On Parade defense that Phillips now has in his third year. He has options. It's obvious he enjoyed scheming up even the guys who have little chance to do anything when it counts this season.
"I think we have 75 guys in there that can play in this league," Kubiak says, knowing the cuts are still coming.
It's now apparent both the No. 2 quarterback candidates would be worthy No. 1s for more than a few NFL teams (see Buffalo and Oakland for starters). Case Keenum is that good. And T.J. Yates has done little to lose his standing as the incumbent No. 2.
Keenum still makes the single best throw of the night — a 27-yard perfectly threaded touchdown pass to Lestar Jean in the corner of the end zone with 1:47 left in the first half. It's a throw that shows all of Keenum's potential and why he'll be a starting quarterback in the NFL at some point in his career. Even if Kubiak decides to keep Yates as the No. 2 early in the season.
"Every time I go out there, I try to do the absolute best I can do," Keenum says.
Keenum finishes the preseason having led the Texans to 41 points and seven scoring drives. He throws for 442 yards, breaking David Carr's club preseason yardage record. He completes 43 of his 63 passes, doesn't throw a single interception.
"Let people say it doesn't count. They'll still remember us hitting them."
It's hard to imagine what more he could have done. He's staked his claim to the No. 2 quarterback job. He's earned this shot. But . . .
Yates comes in and completes eight of his first 11 passes, including a sweet 21-yard touchdown to Andy Cruse, who won't be catching NFL touchdown passes for long. He makes the Texans fourth stringers look like a dominant unit.
"T.J. is out there with all young players," says Kubiak, who had a double purpose in starting Keenum against the Cowboys. "I told him part of my evaluation process was how he could handle all those young guys.
"And boy, did he get 'em all going."
The guy with as many career playoff wins as Tony Romo (one), the incumbent No. 2, ends his preseason on the rise, having led the Texans to 31 points and five scoring drives. He throws four touchdown passes. Yates no longer looks like he's in a comfortable malaise.
After it's over, Yates comes right out and say he feels like he should be the No. 2. This is no time to play nice.
Case Keenum's Future Statement
The Texans go on an 87-yard touchdown drive the first time Keenum trots onto the field, but the quarterback doesn’t do any of the heavy lifting. Instead, it’s Dennis Johnson ripping off a 29-yard run — and Wood breaking free for 41 yards just one play later.
The first quarter ends with Keenum having only thrown five passes. His chance to make another statement appears to be slipping away. He'll grab it in the second quarter — and show all those NFL talent evaluators who small-mindedly let him go undrafted despite his NCAA record breaking career at the University of Houston that he belongs.
It's hard to imagine what more Keenum could have done. He's staked his claim to the No. 2 quarterback job. He's earned this shot.
Kubiak might not name him the Texans' No. 2 going into San Diego (the coach is talking about keeping the competition going during the season, raising the idea that the guy who is the No. 2 quarterback in September might not be the No. 2 quarterback in November). But Kubiak clearly loves what Keenum has done. Any coach would.
"He had a few bad plays," Kubiak says of Keenum. "But he always comes back and makes a big play."
A lot of these Texans do. Earlier in the week at the Texans team luncheon, Kubiak talks about how the Texans will play harder than any other team they face. At the time, it sounds a little hokey and contrived.
But just ask these backup Cowboys. It sure hit them in the face.
Humiliated. Battered. Dominated. Yes, these backup Texans sure play hard.
"There's a pride on defense no matter what game it is," rookie safety D.J. Swearinger says. "Let people say it doesn't count. They'll still remember us hitting them."
Yes, they will. Texans pride? That's not a bad thing to take from a supposedly meaningless night.