Beyond The Boxscore
Matt Schaub, aka the new Brett Favre, shows why Kubiak cannot be fired
Matt Schaub didn't looked stunned as much as spent. As he ripped some tape off his battered body, his Monday Night Miracle having morphed into more misery, as he shuffled away from his locker and toward the interview room in a T-shirt and garrish colored sweat pants (you try dressing up after this), the Texans quarterback wore the expression of someone who's seen it all now.
And he has.
How can anyone on the Houston Texans be shocked anymore? This team is football's Job, only it often inflicts the trials on itself. You'll likely — OK, almost positively — never, ever, ever see an NFL team in your lifetime go through a season quite like the Texans' 2010.
In a way, we're all watching magic. OK, it's a twisted black magic, the kind that produces a deep ache in the end, but admit it ... this Monday Nighter against the Baltimore Ravens is a game you'll always remember.
Baltimore 34, Texans 28 ... and it was somehow ... fun.
Sure, no sports fan wants to admit it. But these Texans, 5-8, eliminated from the playoffs, the world's worst closers, are one of the most entertaining teams you'll ever see.
And it still all starts with Schaub, running Gary Kubiak's plays when the coach has no choice but to throw up his arms and run everything and anything, to forget about balance and feeding the new beast of Arian Foster, to just let it fly. Sure, Schaub lost the game with one of the worst decisions you'll ever see a big-time quarterback ever make backed up by his own end zone in overtime. He threw the ball right into Ravens' cornerback Josh Wilson's chest when he should have thrown it away.
In many ways, he went Brett Favre.
Which is fitting on a night when the real, old, broken down, caught sex-texting, pitiful Favre finally saw his consecutive games played streak end at 297 across the country in Detroit.
Before Schaub was Favre at his worst, he was the worthy of No. 4 at his best. He threw for 393 yards, led the Texans on back-to-back 99 and 96-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. He kept flinging the ball until he gave the Texans a chance to win a game they had no business having a chance to win.
"There was never any doubt in our minds that we were going to win that football game once we got the ball back in overtime," receiver Jacoby Jones says. "Not after those drives. They couldn't stop us. That's a great defense that couldn't stop us.
"You could see them getting tired."
Then, Schaub threw it all away. In a flash. In one instant decision.
"It happened so quick," left tackle Duane Brown said in the most quiet locker room of a season of quiet locker rooms for the Texans. "It was over, before you knew it."
That was Favre on the brink of his prime. Heck, many times that was Favre in his prime and past his prime too. But there was a whole lot of winning between those moments, a whole lot of unbelievable memories. Schaub stands on the brink of that type of run, even if it's hard to see through all the heartache of '10.
There are few quarterbacks you'd want more when everything is breaking apart around him, when one of the best defensive teams in the league holds a 21-point, second-half lead. Sure, Peyton Manning is better under control, more certain when there's an opening. But when it's utter chaos? When the gameplan's all but collapsed and it's sandlot time?
You can't go wrong with Schaub.
"Matt's just so calm and collected when the game's get like that," tight end Owen Daniels says. "Yet, still demanding. He's still very demanding of us in those moments. He's getting on us in the huddle if we're not making a play.
"That's a fine line that a quarterback has to walk — to be collected and demanding without losing the guys, and Matt does it as well as anyone."
Until he loses it himself. Until you can go wrong with Schaub. Until he throws that pass in overtime.
You don't throw away 393 yards on one pass though. Even if that's the way sports fans have been conditioned to believe, even if that pass seems even crueler in the context of the Texans season.
Quarterbacks and coaches often come as combos in the NFL. You don't get rid of the latter without it having it affect the former. And Matt Schaub is too close to give up on this quarterback-coach pair now. That's the reason why Kubiak cannot be fired as the Texans coach.
Does he deserve to go? Of course. Kubiak earned being fired two or three times this season already. But at some point the question needs to morph into: Will firing Gary Kubiak make the Texans a better team in 2011?
And no matter how much you yearn for blood, no matter how much you want someone to pay for this heap of heartache in a style that Natalie Portman's twisted Black Swan ballerina could appreciate, the answer remains no.
It sounds like an excuse, but the Texans are a victim of their schedule and some of the craziest bounces in NFL history, just as much as their coaching. As soon as Houston's schedule came out, the idea of Bob McNair's team making the playoffs was farfetched (I wrote it at the time, noted how their defense still stunk way too much to survive that slate — and heard from irate Texans' fans convinced that the team had turned the corner on D because of that ultra-deceiving inflated run at the end of 2009).
Well, as the Texans continue to lose (and you can expect more of it over these final three games), the schedule becomes ever easier in 2011. That's real life in the NFL, a league geared for parity.
And, no matter how much you're convinced this team suffers from a mental block, there is no way the Texans will lose on a 50-yard Hail Mary pass on the game's final play, a 72-yard, 40-second drive in the final minute and a pick 6 in overtime after rallying from down 28-7 again.
That's once in a lifetime stuff.
"I've never been a part of a team that's lost so many games like this," Daniels said. "I've never even heard of a team go through this many unbelievable close game situations. It's unbelievable."
It is — and part fluke.
"I don't think we're a good team, I know we're a good team," Jones says. "Sometimes other teams just make more plays than we do."
Does Jacoby sound like a complete idiot? Sure. But you know what? He's also right.
As crazy as it is to admit. As much as it goes against the bottom line nature of everything in the sports world. In a way, Jacoby's wild words are even more telling than franchise leader Andre Johnson's "You hate to see somebody fired. You don't wish that on anyone." Or even Johnson's "I know Gary is a great coach and we've got a great staff."
This isn't about that. This isn't pity. It's about Jacoby's craziness.
The Texans are good and will be much better with Schaub and Kubiak next season.
You don't break up the next Brett Favre and his coach. Blood won't make the Texans better. Just because it's inconvenient doesn't make it any less of a truth.
This Monday Night was miserable and magic. It's time to sit back, to ignore every instant-impulse instinct and see where the NFL's new gunslinger takes the Texans.
The new Brett Favre is in the building. Don't cut off his legs before the script really gets going.
Editor's note: Check out CultureMap's other stories from a wild, eventful evening of Monday Night Football in Houston: