For the first time one senses that even Gary Kubiak knows that Matt Schaub is no slam dunk. Though the Houston Texans coach ends up making the safe move, the loyal move, the Kubiak move, this one sounds different.
"It was a tough decision," Kubiak says of sticking with Schaub, his guy, as the Texans starting quarterback. "Real tough. But I feel like it's the best thing for our football team this weekend.
"A lot of thought went into it, a lot of evaluations and things were going on."
This isn't just lip service from Kubiak. Not this time.
"I think it really was," backup quarterback T.J. Yates says when asked if he believes the decision truly was a tough one for his coach. "I do get that sense.
"The pressure falls on the quarterback first and then it falls on the head coach. I think he's taken it hard. You can tell he's put a lot of thought into it. That's his job. He's a loyal coach to his players and that's a great thing.
"He's sticking with his guy and doing what he thinks is the best thing for the team. That's why he's the coach. He can handle the pressure. I wouldn't want to be the one who has to make that call."
What if Schaub is passable against St. Louis? How much will the Texans have really gained?
Yates is talking at his locker, answering a CultureMap question after an initial two waves of media have already stopped to shoot questions at him and moved on. The only other reporter nearby is a News 92 FM radio guy. There's no reason for Yates to pretend like the quarterback position was in play if it really wasn't.
Schaub will say later at the podium that he never worried about losing his job. If that's truly the case, No. 8 is still fooling himself. Yates knows he had a real chance of starting against St. Louis on Sunday. Case Keenum — the intriguing No. 3 with all that upside — should have had a chance. Both will move on and do everything they can to help Schaub salvage another Sunday.
"All the quarterbacks on this team want the team to win first," Yates says. "That's our priority. We'll all do anything we can to help get this thing turned around."
Kubiak isn't one of those coaches who delights in messing around and playing games in the media. And he doesn't seem to be playing any this week. He came close to pulling the trigger on a quarterback switch. You can believe that "tough decision."
Which only makes the fact he didn't ultimately follow through even more disappointing.
"I wouldn't want to be the one who has to make that call."
Faced with a rare, real chance to change the trajectory of the Texans franchise, presented with a prime opportunity to break character and go bold, Kubiak instead stays true to form. Good but not quite good enough.
That's the best the Texans can hope for from Matt Schaub now — and even that requires more hope than two convents of nuns could pray for considering the funk No. 8's mired in.
Opportunities don't come around like this very often. If Kubiak believes Keenum has true NFL ability — something he maintained throughout OTAs, training camp and the entire preseason — then he owed it to this talent-packed team and the NFL's No. 1 ranked defense to take a shot with the former University of Houston NCAA record breaker.
Now's the moment. A 2-3 St. Louis team that's dangerous, but vulnerable to the run, coming into Reliant Stadium, represents the window. What happens if Schaub throws away another game? You're going to start Yates or Keenum for the first time this season at a 6-0 or 5-1 Kansas City the following Sunday?
Kubiak's essentially committed to Schaub for at least two more weeks with this move. By the time that stretch is over and the bye week arrives, the season could be gone.
And what if Schaub is passable against St. Louis? How much will the Texans have really gained? The guy who threw four touchdown passes against the Denver Broncos in Week Three last season isn't coming back. Not this year. Not in Houston. With Schaub, the best the Texans can hope to do is survive and squeeze into the playoffs.
Keenum or Yates provide more hope, a chance at a different destiny.
I've long maintained that Keenum is the real potential difference maker and haven't wavered in that view, but one cannot help but be impressed by Yates' cool when talking to the third-year pro. Amid all the quarterback drama, Yates comes across as relaxed as can be. He's not stressing being asked some potentially uncomfortable questions by the media. He's not stressing anything.
It's easy to see how he steadied the Texans and secured that playoff berth when Schaub went down in the 2011 season.
It's personnel decisions where Kubiak too often turns timid, where the creativity seems to drain right out of him.
Schaub does a better job of smiling and appearing more secure, dropping his usual grim-faced routine, in his own media briefing on Decision Day. And he deserves major credit for refusing to give into a local media dying for him to play a few people driving by his house and taking pictures up into some sort of screaming driveway confrontation with out-of-control fans. Schaub won't grab the easy sympathy even when he's practically being begged to take it.
But he still doesn't come across as cool as T.J.
Kubiak is sticking with the shaken one. As a coach, Kubiak takes plenty of undue blame for supposedly conservative, predictable gameplans that are often really anything but. (Ask Seattle's jabber mouth cornerback Richard Sherman if he knew what was coming when Schaub was on target and Andre Johnson completely undressed him in the first half.)
It's personnel decisions where Kubiak too often turns timid, where the creativity seems to drain right out of him. With none bigger than this one.
“I think this shows everything about who Coach is," tailback Arian Foster says. "He’s a players' coach. He really is. He has our back and, when a coach does that, you have to show up for him."
Maybe. Or maybe everyone just continues what they've been doing. Foster is right about this decision showing everything about Kubiak though.
Gary Kubiak came so close to pulling the trigger. He was almost there. Instead, he sticks with Schaub. Good but not good enough.