GLENDALE, Ariz. — Case Keenum's white Houston Texans road jersey is caked with green stains, testament to an afternoon spent getting driven into the Arizona Cardinals' fancy retractable indoor grass. When Keenum exchanges the battered jersey for his postgame gray suit and black button-up shirt, he doesn't look any more comfortable though.
For good reason.
Keenum walks out of the surprisingly spacious visitors locker room at the University of Phoenix Stadium (the Cardinals clearly don't believe in Red Auerbach mind games) having left a ton of plays out on the field.
The Texans are losers again — 27-24 to Arizona — in part because Keenum plays his worst game as a pro. He misses reads. He over throws receivers. He under throws receivers. Even his last touchdown pass is rather ugly, only salvaged by the utter brilliance of one Andre Johnson.
And we haven't even got to the touchdown the Texans' 25-year-old quarterback coughs up to the Cardinals on the very first offensive snap of the afternoon.
If this is Case Keenum at his worst, the Texans are in fantastic shape at the most important position in the game.
If Case Keenum plays even a C-Minus Game on Sunday, the Texans return from the desert with an emotional win for the stroke-recovering Gary Kubiak. And he knows it.
"It’s terribly frustrating when I have to come into the locker room and look at the guys, when there are four or five plays I could make that make a huge difference in this game," Keenum says. "And I didn't make them."
This is Case Keenum at his worst. And it's great news for the Houston Texans. For it shows that the free-falling 2-7 Texans do not have to waste their upcoming high draft pick on a quarterback project. There's no need to hope for a Teddy Bridgewater or a Marcus Mariota or even a Johnny Manziel. If this is Case Keenum at his worst, the Texans are already in fantastic shape at the most important position in the game.
For even on an afternoon when Keenum can't seem to find the touch, even in a game where he barely completes more than 50 percent of his passes (22 of 43), even when he just cracks 200 total passing yards, he still throws for three touchdowns. Case Keenum still has the presence of mind to lean on Andre Johnson in the red zone (something Matt Schaub inexplicably failed to do for years).
At his worst, Keenum still gives a Texans team that seems to be splintering apart like the Titanic all around him a great chance to win.
That's something to build on. And despite those back-to-back playoff win seasons coming into this year, Bob McNair's franchise still clearly needs some serious offseason building.
"We put ourselves in this position," Johnson says. "There's no reason to sit around and whine about it."
This position almost certainly means a Top 10 pick in next April's NFL Draft now. And hopefully for the Texans, a Top 3 pick. That's right, hopefully.
Texans fans might as well embrace the losing now. That 6-10 season in 2010 got the Texans J.J. Watt. A 3-13 or 4-12 could work its own miracles. How good would Jadeveon Clowney look on the same defense with Watt, who leaves the desert having once again proven he's one of the most dominant players in the league? How good would Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews look plugged into a line struggling with Derek Newton?
You don't have to be one of those NBA teams madly tanking to try and grab Andrew Wiggins to realize that losing sometimes isn't the worst thing.
Oh, the Texans of Kubiak, McNair and Rick Smith will never try to lose. And it's certainly not in Keenum's DNA either. It's tormenting the former University of Houston star to have gotten off to a 0-3 start in his NFL quarterbacking career.
One look at him in that suit confirms that.
"I’m used to winning. I feel like a winner. That’s my mindset. Not winning kills me.”
Still, now's the time to let Case Keenum learn how to win. It's the next big step in his evolution, one the Texans would be wise to fully embrace. Houston's put up 48 points in the last two weeks with Keenum taking the snaps. Johnson's caught five touchdown passes in those two Sundays.
"When I get opportunities, I try to make the best of them," Johnson says in his usual understated way, seemingly the only man in America not wowed by his pair of you've-got-to-be-kidding-me touchdown catches. Yes, Andre Johnson's still better than any receiver in the league not named Calvin Johnson when he's given a chance. And he has one now.
That's on Keenum.
The Texans have found a quarterback. Now, it's time to find more.
Ed Reed Shelved For Youth
Ed Reed is understandably upset about getting turned into a bit player in Wade Phillips' Bulls On Parade defense. That's what seems to be behind his "we just got outplayed and outcoached" comment. But really, the Texans need to give both rookie D.J. Swearinger and third-year player Shiloh Keo as many snaps at safety as they can right now. The Texans must find out what they have. Ed Reed's not making a difference with a 2-7 team.
And Keo and Swearinger are as excited to play as Keenum, flying all over the field and forcing turnovers. Swearinger picks veteran quarterback Carson Palmer off for his first NFL interception in Arizona, another building block on a lost afternoon.
"It's great to get that first one out of the way," Swearinger tells CultureMap in a quiet moment at his locker after the game. "You're going to see a lot more where that came from."
That's kid swagger. Keenum has it too — even if he'd never verbalize it to the press in quite the same way as the uniquely, fun-loving Swearinger. The young quarterback's worst game isn't going to shake that self belief.
Texans fans might as well embrace the losing now. That 6-10 season in 2010 got the Texans J.J. Watt.
Keenum isn't sharp against Arizona. He gets lucky on a few throws that could have been interceptions. He way over throws Johnson early in the fourth quarter. He sails a ball far over DeAndre Hopkins head when the rookie receiver has great position in the end zone for a possible jump ball touchdown.
Once again, the Texans offensive game calling seems to get more conservative in the second half too.
In contrast, a little bit of Bruce Arians trickery produces the Cardinals' second touchdown. Tight end Rob Housler feigns like he's staying in to block and then suddenly disengages from Whitney Mercilus to go out on a pattern. Wide open. Touchdown.
Watt does his best to shift the tide. With Arians pushing it late in the first half, even though he has Palmer at quarterback, the Texans' defensive terror flies in for the sack, the strip and the fumble recovery. At Arizona's own 22-yard line.
Talk about a one-man wrecking crew.
But Keenum and the Texans offense does nothing with the great field position, not gaining a single yard in three plays. The result? Randy Bullock's 41-yard field goal attempt is blocked. Houston ends up getting zilch out of Watt's three-in-one play.
"I’m going to get better," Keenum promises afterwards, standing at a podium in that suit. "I’m used to winning. I feel like a winner. That’s my mindset. Not winning kills me.”
This is Case Keenum at his worst. Which makes the future look a whole lot better for the Texans.