Andre Johnson shuffles over to his locker in shower sandals and black shorts, looking much older than his already supposedly football geriatric 33 years. Of course Johnson often moves at the pace of an old man off the field — after playing like a beast on it.
Now that No. 80's on-field dominance is stuck in suspended animation though, everyone wants to read more into his every action and inaction. Andre Johnson's suddenly not just The Last Man in the Locker Room. He's a Dead Man Walking, one of those suddenly past his prime athletes who warrants pity.
It matters little that the narrative's not really true. That Ryan Fitzpatrick is the only thing making Andre Johnson look old. Two catches for 12 yards demands a reaction. And if the Greatest Texan Ever is not going to stomp his feet and demand the damn ball, then everyone else will pile on him.
So Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Cary Williams comes out and basically calls Johnson a shadow of himself after the Texans' offensively impaired 31-21 loss. "I know that wasn't the Andre Johnson of years past," Williams says. "It wasn't the Andre Johnson I'm used to. I don't know if it's the way they are using him, whether he is happy or unhappy, or what it was, but that wasn't that guy."
Then, 610 AM sports radio's postgame hosts launch into Johnson with Mike Meltser (who is definitely smart enough to know better) and Sean Pendergast (who may or may not be) speculating that this could mean Johnson will be cut after this season. As if Bill O'Brien's not smart enough to turn on the tape and watch No. 80 catch three touchdown passes in a half from Case Keenum, a quarterback who is capable of getting the ball down the field, less than a year ago and realize that Johnson is not the problem.
If you think Andre Johnson is no longer capable of being an impact player in the NFL, you know less football than Rush Limbaugh.
If the Greatest Texan Ever is not going to stomp his feet and demand the damn ball, then everyone else will pile on him.
Johnson could have easily changed this storyline if he cared about making himself look good. If he put such a thing — which let's face it, many elite pro athletes do — above the team.
All Andre has to do is complain about how he's being used. He is more than capable of burying the Texans' limited journeyman quarterback with the most modest of outbursts. Instead, No. 80 refuses to fire.
"I have no comment about that," Johnson says when asked if he's surprised he isn't getting the ball more. That's the first question when Johnson talks to the small group of reporters who waited for him in the locker room. Johnson quickly moves on to talking about the overall inconsistencies of the offense — and never singles out his own absurd lack of opportunities.
This is what the being a good teammate thing that Bill O'Brien is always talking about — and preaching to his team behind the scenes — truly looks like.
If there is any professional athlete in Houston who's earned the right to go off in frustration and demand his rightful looks, it's Andre Johnson. Instead, the Greatest Texan Ever declines to call out Fitzpatrick or O'Brien publicly. Andre Johnson will just keep going about his business and hoping for the best from the now 4-5 Texans.
O'Brien's right when he notes that these now powerhouse Chip Kelly Eagles stood at 3-5 last season in Kelly's first year before ripping off a 7-1 finish and declares "We're still certainly not out of anything." But these Bill O'Brien Texans are also one of the most confounding teams in the NFL.
They push elite team after elite team to the brink — the Cowboys, the Andrew Luck Colts, the suddenly unstoppable Steelers, these frantic mad scientist Eagles — only to doom themselves in the end. Again and again and again.
Texans Collapse, McCoy Gloats
This time it's an inexcusable 39-yard field goal miss from Randy Bullock and eight-minute-plus fourth quarter touchdown drive surrendered by a J.J. Watt defense that suddenly finds itself incapable of stopping the run — and LeSean McCoy — when it matters most.
"We are in every game," center Chris Myers says. "We have to be able to pull it out."
Where's the improvement? This looks more like that Groundhog Day movie. The Texans just don't have an offense that can keep up.
It's time to wonder if the Texans are getting any better though. If you keep losing close games to the better teams as the calendar passes Halloween, have you really improved at all?
This is something that clearly troubles Andre Johnson.
"I don't know," Johnson says when someone asks if the Texans have improved since the beginning of the season. "Our record doesn't show it."
Where's the improvement? This looks more like that Groundhog Day movie. The Texans just don't have an offense that can keep up and produce the type of numbers good teams do. The Eagles ran 79 plays against the Texans a few weeks after the Colts ran 80 plays against them.
"They were tired," McCoy says of a Texans defense once again given too much of the burden (Houston's offense produces just 14 points on a day when the D forces three turnovers). "Chip does a great job of showing so many different looks and different formations. It gives you so much to prepare for."
The Texans shouldn't be preparing for life without Andre Johnson too. They should be gearing up and scheming a revitalized attack that makes the most of two top level receivers. DeAndre Hopkins, the second-year pro from Clemson, is the one player on this team whose improvement jumps off the page.
It's not sacrilege to acknowledge that Hopkins (115 yards, including another long field-shifting catch, against the Eagles) may be an even bigger threat than Johnson at this point in their careers. But that says more about Hopkins leap than it does about any phantom Johnson fall off. Secondaries are struggling to cover Hopkins these days. But that doesn't mean you ignore your other elite wideout weapon.
Any self respecting NFL offense should be able to feature two wide receivers.
This is failing in Fitzpatrick's ability and a surprising one in O'Brien's imagination. Yet, Andre Johnson will be the one who hears the noise, who gets people staring at him like he's Willie Mays stumbling around in the outfield or something.
Yes, Johnson missed a play against the Colts with that late fumble. But he is still capable of making plenty more. He deserves that chance. More importantly, these Texans have no chance at doing anything without utilizing No. 80's talents.
"Well, I mean you think things will get better with time as the season goes on," Johnson says, "but so far we just haven’t been consistent enough."
It's sad seeing Johnson talk this way, seemingly staring the prospect of yet another lost season right in the face.
Soon, he'll be shuffling out of the locker room and into the Houston night, wearing a simple thin gray sweatshirt and black pants outfit that fits his low-key way.
Andre Johnson isn't dead yet. No matter what you're hearing. It's time for fools to stop spitting on his athletic grave and just get him the football.