Beyond The Boxscore
Kubiak adds to legacy of meaningless wins in Texans' finale: How can this beenough?
How do you feel now? Is that enough? Did you see a vision of hope at Reliant Stadium Sunday afternoon?
If so, can you please pass some of whatever it is you're on.
On a beautiful sun-kissed day at your stadium, with the Reliant roof open, with a good chunk of the fan base having found something better to do, the Houston Texans finally flashed all of their potential, blowing away a Jacksonville team that had a more legitimate playoff chance than it probably ever thought, 34-17.
Arian Foster rumbled off 180 yards, Houston's soon-to-be-retooled defense didn't allow a second-string quarterback and a second-string running back to embarrass it (this time) and ... darn if those Texans aren't unbeaten in 2011!
Yes, a few Texan players actually trumpeted this mantra in the locker room. After finishing 6-10. With playoff expectations.
"We're undefeated in 2011," receiver Jacoby Jones practically crowed (and unfortunately he wasn't the only one). "Is that right or is it right? That feels pretty good. You tell me. How does it feel?"
Well Jacoby, it feels like anyone who says that desperately needs a new coach.
What a new beginning! They might as well order the printing of January 2012 playoff tickets now.
There probably won't be a real makeover (and please don't bring up the idea of Wade Phillips changing everything as a defensive coordinator) unless Texans owner Bob McNair suddenly develops a winning fever, even the slightest dash of some Steinbrenner or Jerry Jones intensity. As night settled over Reliant and the Jaguars, the Texans announced that the franchise set an all-time record for tickets sold this season (709,503). And you thought, they didn't come through in the numbers that matter?
Gary Kubiak won another game that didn't mean anything, his specialty. The Texans coach has never lost a regular season finale — and not a single one of them has ended up mattering, not even last season's finishing W over the Patriots. Still, it appears that Kubiak can be pretty confident in awaiting his fate, in getting one more year.
He certainly sounded like a man who knows he is coming back in his postgame press conference, talking about what the Texans need to improve, how these four months of misery will make him a better coach.
"I think what this team went through is part of the National Football League," Kubiak said. "But the timing of it was awfully bad. We've been on a nice climb for a four-year period . We'd been on a nice climb even the first six weeks of this season ... Then, we hit a stretch that was a step back. I think in this league that happens to good teams. You've got to battle back.
"We'll get this team back going."
Later Kubiak added, "I think we're all better people and coaches for what we went through."
Great. So does this mean the Texans will finish 9-7 against a much easier schedule next season (with their much-better, same coach of course) and miss the playoffs by a game? Or a tiebreaker?
The nice climb comment rings particularly telling. A nice climb? Everyone else in the NFL is on an express elevator while Gary Kubiak tries to take the twisty stairs all the way up the Eiffel Tower.
Sure, Jacksonville should be ashamed of itself for getting blown out even as the Indianapolis Colts went into the final minutes tied with the Titans, even as Peyton Manning's teammates did their best to throw away a playoff berth, before the Colts won it at the final gun. But should the Texans really feel much better?
McNair needs to listen to Texans' No. 1 warrior, wide receiver Andre Johnson. Not on keeping Kubiak (which Johnson clearly wants to do). No, on the inevitability of life as an Texan.
"It's another season where we're packing our bags tomorrow," Johnson said. "I know the routine. Pack your bags, watch the playoffs on TV ... Another season. That's the bottom line."
Look, Johnson loves Kubiak. Almost all the players do. Along with the support staff. Along with McNair. You'd be crazy not to. Gary Kubiak is a great dude, the rare NFL coach who isn't an egomaniac. But it's time to let the good guy prove he's a big-time coach somewhere else.
Kubiak insists that he hasn't talked to McNair about his job status yet, says that won't come to Monday. And maybe, Kubiak really did ask McNair to let him "enjoy the week," to let him coach the season's final game without dwelling on tomorrow, but he sure didn't sound like a Dead Coach Walking.
Not in his press conference. Not in how he addressed the Texans after the win in the locker room.
"Gary just told us that we did a good job of fighting," veteran running back Derrick Ward said. "He talked about Matt Schaub's thing (becoming the fifth quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 9,000 yards over two seasons) and of course, Arian winning the NFL rushing title. That was about it. It was pretty upbeat."
"We're all talked out," Kubiak said.
Only One Voice Matters
Until McNair actually says it, none of the ever-changing reports on Kubiak's status matter of course. But, believe it or not, Kubiak somehow gave his owner, his biggest believer, more ammunition by finishing 6-10 rather than 5-11. This game meant something to Gary. It brings smiles to a locker room that's lived through plenty of unbelievable misery in 2010, some of it admittedly beyond fluky.
"We went out and played hard for our coach," Texans defensive tackle Shaun Cody said. "I think we showed what we think of Gary today. We knew his job was on the line and we wanted to go out and play our butts off for him. No one can say we didn't bring an all-out effort to this game."
Great. What about against Tennessee two weeks ago? Or the second half in Denver last weekend? Kubiak is a Hall of Fame final game coach. It's the first 15 games of the season the Texans need to worry about.
"I have no problem with Gary," said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who is now out of a boot and looking to next season. "He's a good coach."
The players responded ... as the fans yawned.
Even Annise Parker cannot help but poke a little fun at the Texans. The mayor tweeted: "Ready for the New Year! Just left church. Prayed for the city. Going to Texans game later (not sure prayer will help them)-a" before her arrival at Reliant.
Not sure prayer will help them? And you didn't think Parker could be funny! It doesn't take Chris Rock to highlight the absurdities of this Texans' season.
Of course, Parker deserves credit for still showing up at the game. That's more than many ticket holders did. With less than two minutes to kickoff, Reliant stood less than half full. By the second quarter, large swaths of empty blue seats could still be seen all around the lower bowl. The Texas Bowl on Wednesday night arguably had a more legit, larger crowd.
Forget the ridiculously lame Fire Kubiak rally that received about 1000 times the media coverage it deserved — "a rally" that consisted of a half dozen guys with two signs standing across the street from the stadium, a half dozen guys surrounded by eight to 10 cameramen. It's apathy in the stands, the choices made to not even bother attending, that should chill McNair to the bone.
But hey ... what about Arian Foster!
This seems to be the strategy McNair is employing with himself. Keep switching the subject, keep changing the discussion, and maybe there's a case to be made for keeping Kubiak.
Foster is revelation, one who broke off a 56-yard run on his carry of the game Sunday and finished the Jaguars off with an even-more-impressive 35-yard touchdown sprint early in the fourth. The Texans' new offensive lifeline (sorry Andre) had 80 yards by the end of the first quarter, putting his cleats all over the game. Kubiak deserves plenty of credit for pushing Foster to an NFL rushing crown, to running for more yards in a single season than any undrafted free agent ever has.
And this was much more than a little nudge — without Kubiak's benchings, without his insistence on not allowing Foster to act like a punk even after the second-year back became a star, there is no way that Foster stands where he is today.
But is one huge new weapon enough? Do you feel better now?
Are you excited that Kevin Walter finally caught everything thrown his way with the pressure completely off? Are you pumped that Jacoby Jones finally found seems with his speed with Johnson out?
It wasn't enough to make the Texans a winner — or anything close to it — this season. If Kubiak's being lauded for the offense, he's getting a free pass for some inexplicable inconsistency. Houston's O helped lose plenty of games too. Just six points in the second half against Denver? Absolute complete-game meltdowns versus the New York Giants, the Indianapolis Colts (the second meeting when coaching adjustments are made) and the Tennessee Titans (the second meeting)?
Kubiak himself seemed to lean on this false sense of having a superpower offense in the postgame.
"It's pretty obvious we've got some problems on defense," Kubiak said. "We've got some serious problems. That filtered through our special teams also. Usually how good you play on defense has a lot to do with how athletic you are and that filters through your special teams."
So now the defense is at fault for the Texans' pathetic special teams too? Think he wants McNair to just fire defensive coordinator Frank Bush? Yeah, that's the ticket!
At least, Kubiak mentioned athleticism, which goes to personal and the job that general manager Randy Smith hasn't done. If Kubiak stays, you'd hope he'd also be faced with a new general manager, one who truly holds final say. Of course, that probably will not happen either.
Kubiak will likely turn Jones into an even better receiver if he's still the coach next season. This type of talent is his specialty. But will it translate to anything besides making one more jersey a little more popular in the Texans' team shop?
Is that enough? Really?