The cornerback who was arrested for trying to pay for items in a convenience store with bubble gum is feeling the moment. So Dwayne Gratz puts his finger to his lips and shushes the raucous NRG Stadium crowd.
The second-year Jaguars defensive back has just returned an errant Case Keenum pass 55 yards for a touchdown. He's just pushed the Jacksonville to a 10-7 advantage over the playoff scheming Houston Texans.
Gratz is cockily sensing blood. It's not close to the first time someone will prematurely count Case Keenum and the Houston Texans out. But in the end, Gratz and the all the other doubters are the ones left woozy.
Keenum — the dissed, dismissed and doubted quarterback — leads the never-say-die Texans on three touchdown drives of 70-plus yards, overcomes two daunting deficits and his own mistakes (including a costly fumble), and powers Houston to a 23-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. That it's not enough to push the Texans (9-7) to an improbable playoff berth is no fault of Keenum's.
When many expect Case Keenum to fall apart, he drives on. After the Pick-6, he leads the Texans on his second 70-plus yard touchdown drive of the first half.
For much of the afternoon, that nirvana seems so tantalizingly close though. San Diego loses to Kansas City and the Baltimore Ravens trail the Cleveland Browns in the fourth quarter with that combination being what Houston needs for a playoff berth. The Ravens rally for two touchdowns in the last 7:33 to win and wrench the AFC's last playoff berth away from Houston though.
Still, Keenum goes 2-0 in his late-season emergency run as the Texans starter, giving the coach who cut him (Bill O'Brien) more than he ever could have hoped for — or rightfully expected. Against the Jaguars, Keenum completes 25 of 35 passes for 250 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a more-than-worthy 98.0 quarterback rating. All under virtual playoff pressure.
"This guy, people always talk about his record as starter and I understand quarterbacks are judged by wins and loses," O'Brien says of the constant criticism of Keenum. "I get that, but he's 2-0 this year.
"He's 2-0 as a starting quarterback for the Houston Texans and that says a lot about him and the guys around him."
When many expect Case Keenum to fall apart, he drives on. After the Pick-6, he leads the Texans on his second 70-plus yard touchdown drive of the first half. Keenum keeps the drive alive by scrambling for a first down on third-and-10. He hits Andre Johnson for several more important completions on a day when he helps Johnson reassert his dominance (10 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown).
The whole game is something of a throwback for No. 80, confirmation that the All-Time Greatest Texan is still more than capable of dominating games when given the opportunity. Johnson has five catches for 83 yards in the first 23 minutes of the game.
Keenum clearly relishes relying on Johnson.
Just like last week, O'Brien has Keenum come out throwing. This time, it begins with a 29-yard strike to Johnson down the seam. Not to be confused with last week's 35-yard, first-play sideline pass to Johnson. Keenum finishes 4-for-4 for 83 yards and a touchdown on the Texans' opening drive.
As starts go, it does not get much more perfect than this.
The damaging Pick-6 follows before the end of the first quarter. Keenum throws behind DeAndre Hopkins and Gratz plucks it out of the air and races the other way for an easy touchdown. The Texans suddenly trail their must-win game 10-7.
Keenum will bounce back though. It's what the former University of Houston record breaker does. He ends the season as the only Texans quarterback with a winning record (Ryan Fitzpatrick goes 6-6, Ryan Mallett is 1-1). It's quite a difference from last season when Keenum is mercilessly hounded for going 0-8 as a starter even though Houston's a completely dispirited team and Gary Kubiak keeps yanking him in and out of games.
In this closing kick, Keenum never has to worry about the hook from O'Brien. And he gets it done. Doubters be damned. Including a certain gum-crazed cornerback.
"I'm not going to play my best all the time," Keenum says. "I'm going to make mistakes. But I'm going to compete."