Andre Johnson sits on a trainer's table, getting an IV after the most brilliant first half of his Hall of Fame career. Johnson needs replenishing after seven catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns. Little does he know that the Houston Texans season is about to be flattened.
One of the trainers tells Johnson that one of the coaches is "down." "I was like, 'Which Coach?' " Johnson says. "Nobody knew."
It's Gary Kubiak, the steadying force for these Texans, the rock who is always there for his team. Only now he's being put in an ambulance, heading for the hospital after collapsing on the field.
The Texans follow with a football collapse of their own, blowing an 18-point lead to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. It's unfair to link the two collapses — one is the type of real-life health event that most families have dealt with — and the other is . . . just well, an overhyped game played by well compensated grown men. Still, it's absurd not to acknowledge that the Texans were not the same team without Kubiak.
"Our young quarterback obviously made some great throws. Hit a lot higher percentage than their quarterback did. Had a lot higher quarterback rating than their quarterback did."
They were stunned. A little less sure of themselves. Things are different when the rock's not around.
"This is a tough league," defensive end J.J. Watt says.
One without mercy. The Colts pounce on the Texans' uncertainty like any top NFL team would, stealing the game 27-24. It doesn't matter how crazy, wild or unlikely your wins or losses are in the National Football League. It only matters if they are wins or losses.
"We've figured out some ways to lose games this year," Texans left guard Wade Smith says.
They sure have. And now the season is essentially over. You don't recover from 2-6 in the NFL. There is only one team in the AFC (thank goodness for those Jaguars!) with a worst record than the Super Bowl scheming Texans. Heck, even the joke Oakland Raiders are in better playoff position than Houston. The Texans' chance at making this a season went down when Wade Phillips' Bulls On Parade defense allowed 21 points in the last 15:05 of this Sunday Night Football national TV showcase.
"I thought all of those days were over," Johnson, the longest-suffering Texan, says of lost seasons like that 6-10 2010. ". . . To be in this position right now, is just not a good feeling."
The reality of another lost season doesn't mean there isn't real hope though. For on a night when Andrew Luck wins almost in spite of his own stats, Case Keenum makes his own potential impossible to miss.
The second-year quarterback throws for 350 yards and three touchdowns in his second career NFL start. His second active NFL game ever.
Season lost. Hope alive.
Fighting Andrew Luck's luck
This season's about just how good Case Keenum can become now. And as lost seasons go, that's not such a horrible position to be in. If you can develop an elite quarterback in the NFL, you guarantee yourself real steady success for years to come.
The common assumption is that the Texans are going to be in trouble for years to come because they'll have to deal with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis forever. But maybe, just maybe, the Colts should be a little concerned about the prospect of a decade of Case Keenum.
Why can't he develop into a top flight QB? Who says Keenum can't end up being better than Luck?
Indianapolis certainly can't handle Keenum on this Sunday night.
Why can't Case Keenum develop into a top flight quarterback? Who says he can't end up being better than Andrew Luck?
Those who scoff at such talk are just relying on the same tired metrics — height, hype and pedigree — that made so many NFL teams miss on Case Keenum in the first place. Why is Andrew Luck guaranteed to be better? Because he's supposed to be?
Wade Phillips — who knows a thing or two about football and quarterbacks — keeps noting how Luck is only 18 for 40 in his postgame press conference. Phillips clearly sees something else in Keenum.
"Our young quarterback obviously made some great throws," Phillips says. "Hit a lot higher percentage than their quarterback did. Had a lot higher quarterback rating than their quarterback did. Two touchdown passes right on the money. It’s a shame it was wasted.”
In truth, even with the shock of Kubiak's collapse, the Texans and Keenum probably win this game if Randy Bullock doesn't miss three field goals — with the last 55-yarder at the buzzer going so far left that Hillary Clinton wouldn't recognize it.
Keenum outplays Luck on this night. Why can't he outplay him in the years to come?
Keenum throws the ball deep, challenges the defense in a way that Matt Schaub seemed increasingly allergic to, runs from one side of the field to the other and uncorks a completion. One start after getting sacked five times in the second half at Kansas City, Keenum only gets taken down once by the Colts on Sunday night.
"That gets me excited more than anything," veteran Texans defensive end Antonio Smith says. "To see the adjustments he made after just one week. You can just see how hard he prepared. He didn't let the blitzes that got to him in Kansas City get to him again.
"He knew where to get rid of the ball this time. He made them pay when they blitzed this time. He hit them deep."
The Houston crowd chanting "Case Keenum! Case Keenum! Case Keenum!" isn't delirious. There's real reason to believe.
Keenum casts one last glance up at the scoreboard as he walks off the field, kicking himself rather than Bullock. "We don't play this game for consolation prizes," Keenum says. "Everybody in that locker room is in there to win the game and it's very frustrating that we didn't."
Not every young quarterback gets the luck that Luck's enjoyed in his first year and a half in the league. That doesn't mean Keenum can't end up being better in the long run.
"You can win with a guy like that," Texans receiver DeVier Posey says of Keenum. "He's learning how tight the margin of error is in this league."
Season lost. Hope alive.