Keenum Smashes The Doubts

Who's doubting now? Case Keenum proves he's the No. 1 QB, delivers hope in heartbreaker

Who's doubting now? Case Keenum proves he's No. 1 QB, delivers hope

Case Keenum Texans Chiefs
Case Keenum showed great poise — and a powerful arm — in his first career NFL start. Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images
Case Keenum Chiefs Texans sack
Case Keenum took a beating in the fourth quarter, but he kept coming back to try and win the game. Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images
DeAndre Hopkins close Texans
Rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins became much more of a target with Case Keenum at quarterback for the Texans. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
J.J. Watt finger wag
J.J. Watt made some of those signature Watt plays to give Case Keenum a chance in the fourth quarter. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
J.J. Watt Antonio Smith Texans
Texans veterans Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt both left impressed with Case Keenum. Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Case Keenum Texans Chiefs
Case Keenum Chiefs Texans sack
DeAndre Hopkins close Texans
J.J. Watt finger wag
J.J. Watt Antonio Smith Texans

KANSAS CITY — Case Keeum runs into the huddle seeing hope where 74,000 others only see blood. The Kansas City Chiefs' red-clad crazies are roaring. Andy Reid and Bob Sutton's defense is dialing up blitzes so exotic that they wouldn't be recognized in Tahiti let alone Kubiak Land.

And the quarterback playing his first NFL game nearly skips into the huddle.

"Even on that drive when we're pinned down at our own 1-yard line, he comes in yelling, 'Let's go 99!' " Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown says, allowing himself  a smile.

The Houston Texans veterans are clearly getting a kick — and a jolt of real hope — out of having Case Keenum as their quarterback. They didn't get a win. Not in Kansas City, the toughest place to play in the NFL (sorry Seattle). Not with the undefeated Chiefs blitzing "more players than we could block," in left guard Wade Smith's words, in the fourth quarter and ending the last three Texans possessions with sacks.

Instead, they come up one point short. Chiefs 17, Texans 16. A loss for today — and hope for tomorrow.

 That's Case Keenum. Everyone else might be running around, pumped up about his play . . . but he expects to win. Always has. 

Hope that centers on No. 7, last week's undrafted third-stringer, the man who everyone knows has to stay the Texans quarterback now.

"I think if Case keeps working, he's going to be a great quarterback," veteran Texans defensive end Antonio Smith tells CultureMap. "The way he's moving and making plays on the run . . . he's going to be a great quarterback. He'll learn and cut out some of the mistakes."

With the once Super Bowl-scheming Texans now sitting at 2-5 heading into their bye week, they have virtually no choice but to stick with Keenum at this point and see how he develops, see where that pushes them. He's the hope.

Just think how depressing things would be around this team if Keenum and the future weren't in play. Middle linebacker Brian Cushing is out for the season before the halfway point again — his left LCL torn and his entire leg broken by a devastating low hit from Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster is battling a bad hamstring, having missed most of the Chiefs game. Backup running back Ben Tate is fighting bruised ribs. Ed Reed is banged up and looking farther and farther away from ever being the Ed Reed the Texans expected when they signed him to that big free agent deal.

After this game's over, after an excruciating scoreless fourth quarter that includes a Texans' goal-line stand and Shiloh Keo interception, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips leans against a folding table in the locker room, arms folded across his chest. Phillips — who lost his dad, the legendary Oilers coach Bum Phillips, on Friday — doesn't have to say anything.

He looks completely spent. The pain's everywhere.

"For me it's really emotional," Keo says. "Wade's kind of like our father figure. We are all playing for him — to try and get him that win. And we just came up a play or two short."

Keenum can't make the winning play late. The Texans produce negative 31 yards in their final three possessions when they're trailing by a single point. There is no Tom Brady ending in Keenum's first NFL day. Keenum leaves the field blaming himself, kicking himself for a ball he might have been able to put in a slightly better position for rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, for that whole first-and-goal at the Kansas City 1-yard line gone wrong earlier in the second half.

S ix of Keenum's 15 completions go for more than 25 yards. He clearly gives the Texans a vertical threat they've lacked. 

That's Case Keenum. Everyone else might be running around, pumped up about his play . . . but he expects to win. Always has.

"I'm really disappointed and frustrated," Keenum says.

And while Smith blames the fact the Texans don't have enough guys in protection once the Chiefs go blitz crazy, Keenum puts that on himself too. "I got confused," he says. "My guys were working to get open and I just need to get the ball out. My offensive line did a great job protecting all day."

Taking responsibility — whether it's really your fault or not — plays well in any locker room. But true talent plays better. That's what truly excites the vets about Keenum.

"Some of those plays we saw him make out there . . . " reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt says. "That's exciting stuff."

It includes one play where Keenum scrambles left to avoid the Chiefs fierce rush, spins back around to run back right and then unleashes a throw that hits Andre Johnson in stride for a big gain. Not to mention a 36-yard pass to Hopkins out of his own end zone. And a 29-yard touchdown throw to Hopkins that shows just how dangerous this limitless receiving weapon should be.

Downfield Case

Six of Keenum's 15 completions go for more than 25 yards. He clearly gives the Texans' passing game the vertical threat it's lacked under Matt Schaub. It hardly seems like coincidence that more wide receivers become involved with Keenum at quarterback as well. Gone is the locked-in, over reliance on Andre Johnson. Heck, Keenum even uses his long-forgotten offseason throwing buddy —Lestar Jean — for two passes in a two-minute drill.

Kubiak deserves tremendous credit for deploying a gameplan that plays to Keenum's strengths, putting the former University of Houston record breaker in the shotgun and pistol formations the quarterback's comfortable in, insuring he has the best chance to be successful. So much for the Texans head coach stubbornly sticking to the same tired offense week after week after week. Maybe, it really was just Schaub.

Keenum's opened up the possibilities for everyone. 

"He definitely gave the team a spark," Jean says. "He comes into that huddle with so much energy. That's what I've seen from him for a while.

"That's how he played in the preseason. In the offseason . . . To be honest, I'm not surprised."

Texans vets like Andre Johnson say the same thing about a complete lack of shock at Keenum's 110.6 quarterback rating in his NFL debut. For all the gigantic doubts from a Houston media core that stubbornly didn't want to believe Keenum could be any good, the no-chance quarterback always held good sway in the locker room.

This is your quarterback. This is your chance to craft a bright future. Where else is the hope now?