Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap

J.J. Watt breaks into a shimmy, rolling his hips like he never could in that omnipresent Verizon commercial. The most dominant defensive football player of this generation is forever dancing in the Houston Texans last game of the season.

It's almost like Watt's determined to prove to everyone that he really can dance — while winning the NFL MVP.

When you're this good, why not multi-task? So Watt breaks into dance after his first sack, after his second sack and after the safety that accounts for his third. He shimmies after nearly every time that "Turn Down For What" — or "Turn Down For Watt" in Texans land — song blares over the NRG Stadium sound system. Which seemingly happens after almost every defensive play on this rollicking Sunday Funday.

Watt's day ends with those three sacks (making him the first player in NFL history to record two separate 20-sack seasons), a forced fumble, a safety, six tackles and a 23-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It doesn't add up to a playoff berth for Bill O'Brien's great first-year turnaround story, but that should hardly deny Watt his rightful league MVP.

"I love this team, love this city. I have a lot of friends here. And I almost feel like we're finally here (as a team). It'd be sad to leave."

MVP voters who won't vote for Watt now because of no playoffs are essentially saying their decision hinged on whether the Baltimore Ravens would choke enough to completely blow a playoff berth. How does that make sense?

No, Justin James Watt is the 2014 NFL MVP. He earns it by getting the most out of his freakish athletic ability on every single play.

"I’m trying to make sure they get their money’s worth and our fans get their money’s worth because they deserve that," Watt says. "I was a kid once. I grew up watching a team, I know what it’s like.

"You want to be that superstar that every average Joe would be if he was a superstar."

Watt is that worthy $100 Million Superstar, but even a supernova needs some support. And that's why O'Brien's team finds itself at a critical telling point. Watt played at a superhuman level all season. But the Texans truly took off when the rest of the defense caught on, giving defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel the confidence to unleash his full array of disguised coverages and fronts. Over the last month of the season, the Texans arguably played the third best defense in the entire NFL, behind only the defending champion Seahawks and maybe the Rams.

Now a huge chunk of that defense — six of the 11 starters — are up for free agency and another vital piece (cornerback Johnathan Joseph) could be facing the kind of pay cut scenario that everyone else is trying to force onto Andre Johnson. Watt's great, but he needs many of these guys for the Texans to go anywhere in the future.

This Texans defense can be great. If its key pieces are kept together.

"This is something we can look at and build on," safety Kendrick Lewis says after the Texans play lights-out defense for the third straight week. "We have to pick up where we left off. I believe in the defense that we have here, the type of attitude that we have.

"It is like blood in the water. We want a taste for more."

Kareem Jackson's Future Keys All

Cornerback Kareem Jackson is the No. 1 must sign by far, but the Texans would be wise to re-sign Lewis, nose tackle Ryan Pickett (a perfect veteran fit for Crennel's defense) and linebacker Brooks Reed who has been a consistent playmaker for weeks now as well.

"Of course," Reed responds when asks if he wants to return. "I love this team, love this city. I have a lot of friends here. And I almost feel like we're finally here (as a team). It'd be sad to leave."

The most disruptive force in football will be one lonely $100 Million Man, if Houston doesn't retain much of this company.

Desire doesn't necessarily equal reality in the hard-line NFL though. If O'Brien gave Case Keenum a real chance at quarterback, the Texans would have more money to bring back more of their defensive core — and add more important pieces. But it'd be a stretch to expect this coach to think that way.

It'd be a shame to see this emerging defense disbanded though. Watt & Friends aren't just making Blake Bortles — an offensively challenged rookie who likely would have been the Texans quarterback if Jadeveon Clowney wasn't in the draft — look lost. They flummoxed Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco in back-to-back weeks too.

"Our defensive kind of changed late in the year," Reed says. "We ran a lot more disguises, made it hard for quarterbacks to see what coverages we were in. It's allowed a bunch of guys to make plays."

Watt is not the only making them now — the way he was during that 2-14 nightmare last season. Jared Crick — the third-year defensive end who is under his rookie contract for another season — sacks Bortles, drops a running back for another loss and knocks down a pass against Jacksonville. Reed runs sideline to sideline, tracking running backs with his long hair flapping behind his helmet. Jackson . . . well, the once-mocked Jackson just changes everything for these Texans.

The most disruptive force in football will be one lonely $100 Million Man, if Houston doesn't retain much of this company.

"I’d definitely love to be back," Jackson says. "At the end of the day, I understand the business side of it. For me, I just have to sit back and just see what happens."

This Texans defense has come too far to lose key pieces and essentially be left needing to start over learning Crennel's complex schemes in training camp. Watt's the MVP that everything centers around, but he cannot be Bob McNair's only big defensive buy this football year.

There's a solution staring the Texans in the face: Give Case Keenum the chance to be the effective, low-cost winning starting quarterback. Develop a passer with tons of potential and keep the supporting stars on the other side of the football.

"We have a chance to be a really explosive defense," Joseph says.

Only if they're not torn apart. Even a shimmy-happy MVP cannot do it all by his lonesome.

J.J. Watt spent most of the Houston Texans' season-ending win over the Jaguars dancing.

J.J. Watt Texans dance Jags
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
J.J. Watt spent most of the Houston Texans' season-ending win over the Jaguars dancing.
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap

Doubters destroyed: Case Keenum ends perfect as Texans QB, laughs off Jags mocking to finish 2-0 — and playoff heartbroken

Keenum Ends Perfect

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."

Case Keenum led the Houston Texans to three long touchdown drives and celebrated a moment with Arian Foster.

Case Keenum Arian Foster Texans Jags
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Case Keenum led the Houston Texans to three long touchdown drives and celebrated a moment with Arian Foster.
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap

Case Keenum should win Bill O'Brien Coach of the Year: Crazy, fiery pregame speech removes any doubt from first-year run

Keenum Sets Up Coach of Year

Lyle Lovett marches through the bowels of NRG Stadium, almost full-bore grinning. The country singer stayed to the very end of the Houston Texans' 25-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens (no early celebrity bolt here) and he seems to be enjoying every moment of it despite his laconic image.

Dikembe Mutombo is already in the Texans locker room at this point, the legendary NBA giant camping out in the training room to pose for pictures. Many of them seemingly requested by Mutombo himself rather than the other way around. It looks very much like Mutombo just wants to be part of something like this again.

There is nothing that quite compares to a winning locker room in big-time sports. Just ask Case Keenum, the first-time NFL winner who pulls an ordinary black backpack on (both straps tight around his arms, none of this casual one-strap hanging look for Keenum) and heads for the interview room. Or ask J.J. Watt . . . he's the hulking guy over there in the red reindeer Christmas sweater. Sure, his face is a little busted up. But it's all good.

"Everything feels better after a win, so I don’t feel it too much," Watt says.

"It certainly got everyone going. He does a great job of bringing players up to his level of intensity."

It's good feelings and high cheer all around in Texans land and No. 99 cannot help but notice it.

"It was kind of like one big Houston family out there," Watt says, mentioning he ran into Lovett. "It was pretty fun. Pretty cool."

The creator of this scene has already retreated from sight. He's well into planning for Jacksonville now.

First-year Texans coach Bill O'Brien's made all this possible with one of the NFL's all-time great single-season coaching jobs. There is no other way to describe what O'Brien's pulled off with these Texans anymore. Taking over a lifeless 2-14 team, starting four different quarterbacks and essentially playing the whole season without the game-changing No. 1 pick in the entire NFL Draft, O'Brien still has Houston alive in the playoff race going into Week 17.

OK, so the Texans (8-7) are still ultra playoff long shots, only able to get to nine wins in an AFC where both Wild Card teams are likely to have at least 10 wins. And OK, Keenum — the so-called fourth string quarterback Houston beat Baltimore with — probably never should have been cut by O'Brien in the first place. But none of that changes the larger scope of what Bob McNair's handpicked coach has done.

In Case Keenum's return game, O'Brien does it by delivering one of the most fiery pregame speeches that's likely been heard in any NFL locker room this season. In it, the coach rails against the Texans being completely dismissed as no-shot, no-threats to the Ravens. Ex-Texans like Gary Kubiak and Owen Daniels get all the attention before the game. O'Brien's team is less than an afterthought.

And that clearly does not sit well with a coach who all but bounces off the walls during his pregame talk in the team auditorium. Several players say O'Brien brings up how no one outside of the locker room gives them any chance of beating a nine-win Baltimore team.

"Very interesting," Texans left tackle Duane Browns says, grinning when someone asks about the speech. "A lot of expletives, a lot of stuff I can't repeat."

It's not the type of speech that is ever going to be shown on HoustonTexans.com. It's a little too real. It's much too Bill O'Brien unfiltered.

But it's the type of speech that no one in that Texans locker room is likely to ever forget.

"It certainly got everyone going," linebacker Brooks Reed tells CultureMap. "He does a great job of bringing players up to his level of intensity."

It's not the type of speech that is ever going to be shown on HoustonTexans.com. It's a little too real. It's much too Bill O'Brien unfiltered.

That's an interesting way to put it. A perfect way, really. Reed's right. O'Brien's gift in getting these Texans to play hard no matter what's stacked against them has been underrated all season.

The defense has never lost hope — even as things seemed to fall apart around them — and now that side of the ball is on a roll that is reminiscent of the late push of that 2011 first Texans playoff team. Houston's defense has held Andrew Luck and now Joe Flacco to less than 200 yards passing in back-to-back weeks. On this Sunday, cornerback Kareem Jackson and third-year defensive end Jared Crick are as big of stars as NFL MVP contender J.J. Watt.

On one of his two interceptions — both of which set up Texans scores — Jackson absolutely just out fights Owen Daniels, the overhyped former Texan, for the football.

That's a Bill O'Brien play. That's the type of ferocious effort the coach screams for in the pregame.

"We were trying to be in those guys' hip pocket every step of the way — everywhere they went," safety Kendrick Lewis says.

They are. Daniels might as well be trapped in a phone both for all the room he has. "I think every team takes on the personality of their head coach and this team has really done that in a good way," Texans linebacker Brian Cushing says.

No Case Keenum Whisperer

O'Brien will receive most of his credit for the work that he and quarterbacks coach George Godsey do with Keenum. And there is no doubt the wildcat-utilizing, Arian Foster-throwing-a-touchdown-pass gameplan is inventive. But in truth, Keenum deserves the majority of the praise for getting himself ready in six days to go from the St. Louis Rams practice squad to throwing it 42 times as the Texans QB starter.

Keenum shows how good O'Brien can be as a coach. But it's this East Coast leader's fiery push, his lifting up of an entire franchise, that illustrates why Bill O'Brien should be the NFL's Coach of the Year.

With Bruce Arians' team fading in the Arizona desert, unable to endure through the type of quarterback calamity that the Texans are somehow getting better under, the contest truly shouldn't even be that close. Arguing for Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is akin to giving an Oscar to the guy who won the Razzie award for worst actor of the year for three years running. Garrett only looks good now because he deflated Dallas' record for years by wasting talent.

Oh, with the politics of NFL awards media voting and the late-to-the-party, year late nature of these honors, Bill O'Brien probably won't win Coach of the Year this season.

But his players know. And who knows? Case Keenum may have just shown the rest of the NFL just how good of a coach the guy who cut him is.

The blistered walls of the Texans auditorium certainly need no reminder.

Bill O'Brien is at the center of everything the Houston Texans have done. Whether it's getting Arian Foster to throw a touchdown pass or helping Case Keenum make the most of his second chance.

Bill O'Brien Arian Foster Texans
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Bill O'Brien is at the center of everything the Houston Texans have done. Whether it's getting Arian Foster to throw a touchdown pass or helping Case Keenum make the most of his second chance.
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap

Gary Kubiak's offense completely exposed, but Ravens downplay "ass kicking" amid playoff visions

The Real Playoff Contender?

Maybe this is the byproduct of championship resolve, the residue of levelheadedness that remains after postseason runs have been gloriously competed and Lombardi trophies have been lifted triumphantly.

With their postseason fate firmly in their grasps the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday squandered an opportunity so golden that lament and woe seemed inevitable reactions in the visiting locker room at NRG Stadium. Their offense delivered a performance so inept that rampant frustration was the expectation in the aftermath of their 25-13 loss to the Houston Texans, but the Ravens were anything but despondent.

Almost cavalierly the Ravens acknowledged their flaccid display, respectfully deferred to the dominance of the Texans defense, and refused to belabor any analysis of their obvious shortcomings. There was no self-flagellation but rather an acceptance of their faults and a shift to what remained: One final shot to win this regular season with the hope that good fortune will befall them and a playoff berth will be theirs to clutch.

"We just got whooped, no (other) way about it," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Defense played well, special teams played well, and we didn't do a single thing on offense. We just got beat up and whooped.

"It's part of being an NFL football player, is being able to take this sometimes and move on and go worry about you."

Undeniably, the Texans dismantled Baltimore. The Ravens amassed just 211 yards and averaged only 3.1 yards per play.

That the Ravens were so thoroughly outwitted by the game plan of Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel came as a surprise, a fact that in no manner disparages Crennel or how the Texans performed previously defensively. Baltimore entered Week 16 ranked inside the Top 10 in total offense (10th with 372.0 yards per game) and scoring offense (eighth at 26.9 points per game), yards per play (eighth with 5.86) and first downs (seventh with 22.0 per game), average rushing yards (fifth with 132.6 per game) and rushing yards per play (sixth at 4.60).

Baltimore had won four of five games to surge into contention in the AFC North thanks in large part to Flacco, who passed for 1,127 yards and seven touchdowns (against just one interception) during that five-game stretch, posting a 104.0 passer rating and showcasing a clear understanding of how Ravens offensive coordinator (and former Texans head coach) Gary Kubiak aims for his signal callers to execute.

Flacco struck an effective balance in the passing game between receivers Steve Smith Sr., and Torrey Smith and tight end Owen Daniels (another Texans castoff). Running back Justin Forsett unexpectedly emerged from the carnage of the Ray Rice controversy to rank fifth in the NFL with 1,128 rushing yards. The Ravens' run-pass balance is familiar to Texans fans as a Kubiak hallmark, and there was little indication that Baltimore would crumble so completely under the pressure applied by the Texans' defensive front and the coverage of their secondary.

Undeniably, the Texans dismantled Baltimore. The Ravens amassed just 211 yards and averaged only 3.1 yards per play. They managed a measly 2.1 yards on 16 rushing attempts and eventually had to abandon their vaunted ground game — and desired offensive balance — in an attempt to erase a 19-6 deficit entering the fourth quarter. With the game on his shoulders Flacco wilted, tossing three interceptions (two to Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson) and absorbing 10 hits (six combined for rampaging defensive ends J.J. Watt and Jared Crick). He posted a 0.0 passer rating in the first half and completed the game with a season-low 3.9 yards per attempt. Flacco was at the fulcrum of a demolition.

"Sputtered is an understatement," Daniels said of the offensive display. "We really couldn't do anything. We turned the ball over obviously in our own territory a couple of times and that didn't help. We just couldn't get in sync doing anything like throwing the ball and running the ball.

"The Texans have a really good defense. We knew that coming in. We just didn't make any plays down the field or do anything to keep drives alive."

"Bottom line is offensively we just got our ass kicked. Hate to say it that way but that's what happened."

Flacco and Daniels praised Kubiak for characteristically downplaying his return to Houston, a decision that proved prescient given the results. But after having failed so resoundingly with so much at stake, the fact that the Ravens took their drubbing in stride was commendable. Their locker room remains pockmarked with veterans who anchored the run to victory in Super Bowl XLVII, and their collective poise in the face of self-induced adversity was unmistakable.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh laid thick the metaphorical coachspeak when he spoke of leaving in Houston any baggage that would prevent efficient preparation for the Cleveland Browns next Sunday, but his words resonated nevertheless.

Late Sunday afternoon was not the time for self-pity and sorrow. The Ravens had a stated goal, prepared accordingly yet fell short. Their willingness and capability to move on from what had transpired seems to bode well for the challenge ahead. Wallowing in the misery the Texans pressed upon them would be as counterproductive as failing to embrace what had happened in the hours preceding their flight home.

"Bottom line is offensively we just got our ass kicked," Smith Sr. said. "Hate to say it that way but that's what happened. That's what the score looks like and that's what it looks like when you just lose. That is the consequence of losing.

"We expect and understand the negative feedback, all the fat, lazy, sorry couch quarterbacks that are going to come out. We expect that, understand that and we're not going to pay attention to it."

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was never able to get comfortable against J.J. Watt and the charging Texans.

Joe Flacco Watt Texans
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was never able to get comfortable against J.J. Watt and the charging Texans.
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap

Case Keenum breaks down after win and Arian Foster threatens to punch him

Case Keenum Breaks Down

After it's over — after Case Keenum records the first win of his NFL career in one of the most improbable situations any quarterback's ever faced — he runs around on the field and starts slapping every offensive lineman and coach he can find on the shoulder, wrapping many up in hugs. First-year Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien pulls him in for a near bear hug.

All the while, the biggest grin stays locked on Keenum's face.

It's a near Jimmy Valvano scene in the degree of pure joy just spilling out. But it turns out that Keenum's on-field celebration is damn near muted compared to his locker room moment.

"I couldn't put it all into words, how special it was for me. Arian (Foster) said he was going to punch me if I cried."

For when the Texans gather in the locker room after an emphatic 25-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens — one that has owner Bob McNair giving himself a game ball because it's so big — Keenum stands up in front of the team and pours his heart out.

"He gave us a little mini speech," left tackle Duane Brown says. "He got a little choked up."

That's what lifting the burden of that 0-8 record as a starter — a deceiving stat that Keenum's media haters used to dismiss him at every opportunity — can do to a man. Keenum didn't quite cry though. Otherwise, he might have left with a black eye.

"I couldn't put it all into words, how special it was for me," Keenum says later at the interview podium. "Arian (Foster) said he was going to punch me if I cried."

The Texans lifeline tailback — the game-changing force Keenum never really got to play with last season during that 0-8 nightmare — was joking of course. Foster is more than appreciative of the Case Keenum story. The all-pro back came in as an undrafted free agent like Keenum. No. 23 knows what it's like to seemingly have the entire NFL establishment against you.

Keenum's first win is powered by a ferocious defensive effort and Foster's talents, but he is anything but just along for the ride. O'Brien has Keenum throw the ball 42 times, only eight less than comeback desperate Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. That's hardly the stuff of a caretaker that the Texans are working around. No, Keenum's skills are a huge part of O'Brien's winning gameplan.

"We knew Case is a tough guy," receiver DeAndre Hopkins says. "Once we found out he was coming in, guys got a little happy. Because we knew he was going to give it his all."

Then, Keenum let it all go in that impromptu locker room speech. Without getting slugged by Arian Foster. That's a win-win.

Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap

Case Keenum slam dunks the doubters: Finally given support (and Arian Foster), the UH winner predictably comes out

Keenum Slams Dunk Doubters

Case Keenum almost bounces off the field to the roar of the remaining crowd, having given the city he loves one of those moments it's too seldom enjoyed.

So much for that rap that Keenum cannot win in the NFL. Thrust into a situation that would have unnerved many a quarterback, the former University of Houston record breaker ends up being Bill O'Brien's salvation.

It's a moment full of irony and second thoughts — with Keenum stepping up for the coach who never even gave him a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job in training camp, with fair wonder swirling about what could have been if Keenum had been on the Texans roster all season — but for the quarterback himself it's all about the joy.

Case Keenum's waited a long time for this moment. He deserves to enjoy it.

This doesn't guarantee anything about the 26-year-old Keenum's NFL future. Besides another start against Jacksonville next week.

For the first time with the Texans, Case Keenum has support. Is it really any surprise that a win finally follows?

But it's a start and a heck of a blow against the doubters. With Keenum confidently and calmly running an imaginative O'Brien offense, the Texans overwhelm the playoff scheming Baltimore Ravens 25-13.

"I can't put words on it," Keenum says afterwards. "It's something special. Someone told me that when you don't win it makes you realize just how sweet winning really is.

" This is very sweet."

Keenum's first career NFL win is a near dominant victory that no one could have predicted. And its tone is set by Keenum's accuracy on the Texans first drive and his control of the offense throughout.

Keenum benefits greatly from a Texans defense that completely obliterates Gary Kubiak's Ravens offense. He benefits greatly from the threat of Arian Foster's legs —and from the unexpected reality of Arian Foster's touchdown slinging right arm. He benefits from a coach who designs an offensive gameplan around his strengths rather than stubbornly jamming him into a particular system.

For the first time in a Houston Texans uniform, Case Keenum has support. Is it really any surprise that a win finally follows?

The scene that plays out at NRG Stadium effectively rips apart the Houston media perpetuated notion that Keenum's at fault for his 0-8 record as a starter in 2013.

Case Keenum's Resurrection

Keenum's final numbers on this day aren't exceedingly pretty by any means (20 of 42 for 185 yards, no touchdowns and one interception). But he comes off another team's practice squad and leads the Texans to victory. That's more than impressive.

Six tireless days of preparation this week — and a lifetime of preparing for moments like this. That is Case Keenum's formula for rescuing the Texans,

This isn't a storybook moment. Instead it is Keenum finally have enough around him in the NFL to show his talent. It's about opportunity.

By the end of the first quarter, Keenum's racked up 120 yards passing. He has completions of 35, 23 and 22 yards.

Keenum comes out throwing, drops a sideline pass into Andre Johnson's hands for a 35-yard gain on the first offensive play of the game. He completes his first four passes overall, accounts for all 63 yards on the opening drive, and the Texans walk away with a field goal.

By the end of the first quarter, Keenum's racked up 120 yards passing. He has completions of 35, 23 and 22 yards. He spreads the ball around, hitting five different receivers in the opening quarter alone.

O'Brien deserves credit for tailoring his gameplan to Keenum's strengths. The coach puts Keenum in plenty of shotgun formations. He allows Keenum to attack the middle of the field, something O'Brien seldom seemed to do in the preseason. O'Brien even gives the Ravens something to think about by breaking out the wildcat, having Keenum split out wide right as a receiver and direct snapping the ball to running back Arian Foster.

And it's not just a gimmick. There is a plan behind it. Late in the first half with the Texans once again in danger of coming away with only a field goal, Foster runs right, pulls up and rifles a touchdown pass to rookie tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.

O'Brien gets awfully offensively conservative and cautious after Houston takes a 16-0 lead, but that's to be expected. The Texans settle for too many Randy Bullock field goals (a franchise record six).

But Keenum still leads the Texans to seven scoring drives, the most for Houston in any game this season. He still gets the emphatic win, which all his critics claimed was most important back when that's all they could criticize him for in the beginning of his run last season.

This is no storybook. But it's a heck of a real start.

Case Keenum completed his first four passes and drove the Houston Texans to a score in the opening drive in his return game.

Case Keenum Ravens throw Texans
Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap
Case Keenum completed his first four passes and drove the Houston Texans to a score in the opening drive in his return game.
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Alex Bregman drops Breggy Bomb and epic blast as Astros clinch 6th Al West title

count it

In what’s now becoming an H-Town fall rite of passage, the Houston Astros have just clinched their sixth American League West Division title in the past seven seasons on Sunday, October 1. The Stros cemented the title with a big, 8-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

Also keeping things official: On Sunday, the Seattle Mariners bested the Texas Rangers 1-0, ensuring the Astros’ top-line status.

Superstar Alex Bregman, who is quickly rising to legend status in Houston, handed the D-Backs a Breggy Bomb, and handed fans a bomb line that may just become this year’s Astros rally:

“A lot of people were wondering what it was gonna be like if the Stros didn’t win the division,” Bregman told his teammates in the clubhouse after the win, goggles on and Dom Pérignon in hand in a video captured by KPRC Channel 2 sports reporter Ari Alexander.

And then: “I guess we’ll never know.” Amazing.

The Astros clubhouse exploded in yells and sprays of Champagne as the normally steely eyed, understated Bregman (who is becoming a quiet comedy star via recent H-E-B commercials) hopped up and down with his guys.

Sunday’s win marks 12 division titles, 17 playoff berths in franchise history, and a franchise record seventh consecutive season heading to the playoffs in a row (2017-2023). The Astros have also won the AL West the last three consecutive seasons (2017-19, 2021-23) in six overall division titles.

As for the manager Dusty Baker, who’s been the topic of debate among talking heads and fans, this win marks his fourth consecutive postseason bids with the Astrios. Baker is now the first manager in MLB history to win division titles with five different clubs (Astros, Nationals, Reds, Cubs, and Giants), with 10 division titles under his belt.

He also boasts a promising 28-14 record in the postseason with the Astros, good news as the team looks ahead.

Nailing six straight ALCS titles (2017-2022) is a historic feat for our Houston Astros, the first American League team to do so. Only the 1991-99 Atlanta Braves, during a dominant sweep, accomplished such a feat in Major League Baseball.

It’s never too early in Houston to talk World Series, so a quick reminder that the Stros have headed to the championships four of the last six seasons (2017, 2019, 2021, and 2022). We all remember the unforgettable World Series titles in ’17, our first, and ’22, our most recent.

To celebrate the next run, fans can head to the Astros Center Field Team Store, which will remain open for a 24-hour event from Sunday, October 1 through 7 pm Monday, October 2. Fans can stock up on gear and look forward to visits from the Shooting Stars (10 am – 11 am and 5 pm – 6 pm) and Orbit (noon – 1 pm). Monday shoppers can score free coffee and pastries as they grab gear.

Meanwhile, the Center Field Team Store will have expanded Postseason hours beginning this week and running until the conclusion of the postseason: 9 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday and 9 am – 2 pm on Saturdays.

Charming Houston town's top rank in nation for families leads week's hottest headlines

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Charming Houston community named No. 12 most family-friendly U.S. city. The "Family-Friendly Cities" list focuses on local communities that offer plenty of recreational outdoor activities.

2. Houston's favorite outdoor concert venue ranks No. 1 in the world in new list. The venue had more million-dollar box office grosses this year than ever.

3. Where to eat in Houston right now: 9 best new restaurants proving our pizza town cred. The new arrivals enhance Houston's dynamic pizza scene.

4.Beyoncé reigns supreme with Megan Thee Stallion cameo in jaw-dropping Houston Renaissance Tour opening night. Our review recaps Beyoncé's breathtaking homecoming celebration, from jaw-dropping visuals, to Megan's surprise appearance.

5.Countdown to Beyoncé: Parking, closures, rideshares, and more for NRG Stadium. We mapped all the ways to get to NRG Stadium for last weekend's epic shows.

Rock icon Bono's daughter makes her own sweet music in Flora and Son

in bloom

The new Apple TV+ film Flora and Son centers on a single mother and her teenage son, a situation that typically calls for an uplifting story about the mother’s struggles trying to support the two of them, and the bond that develops between them as go through the troubles together. While that element exists somewhat here, it goes down a much different path that’s both saltier and equally as rewarding.

Eve Hewson and Oren Kinlan in Flora and Son

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Eve Hewson and Oren Kinlan in Flora and Son.

Set in Dublin, Ireland, the film follows Flora (Eve Hewson), a single mom to Max (Oren Kinlan), who gets in a fair bit of trouble. She shares custody with her ex, Ian (Jack Reynor), and their antagonistic relationship, along with Max being a teenager, likely has an effect on how Flora and Max get along. A typical interchange between mother and son has them calling each other all sorts of bad names, although there rarely seems to be any true animosity behind their arguments.

When a guitar Flora refurbishes for Max goes unappreciated, she instead starts taking online lessons herself with an American named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). She’s no less brash with him, but her sincere interest in learning how to play and in finding out more about Jeff’s music opens a new door for Flora. Soon, a discovery that Max is making music of his own on his laptop helps them communicate better than they have in a long time.

Flora & Son is the latest music-focused film from writer/director John Carney (Once, Sing Street), and he once again finds the sweet spot in telling a personal story enhanced by song. Flora has more than a few rough edges, making her a less-than-ideal protagonist, but the heart of the character shines through precisely because she has no filter. Once music is added to the equation, it become that much easier to see the type of person she is and why you should root for her.

Both Hewson and Gordon-Levitt are charming actors, so they establish a connection through a screen well. Fortunately, though, Carney chooses not to leave it at that, adding a slight fantasy element to some of their scenes by having Flora imagine Jeff in the room with her. A romantic element naturally arises, but it’s the unexpected way in which two lonely souls find each other from across the world that makes them the most interesting.

There are a couple of decent songs that come out of the process of all of the music-making, but nothing that you could truly call an earworm. Instead, it’s the feeling you get seeing the characters interact when they’re sharing music with each other that makes the film sing. Only one character could be classified as a professional musician, with the rest of them making music for the pure joy of it, an emotion Carney translates well in his storytelling.

Hewson (the daughter of U2’s Bono, in case you were unaware) is having a moment after 15 years in the business. She has a boldness that serves her as well in this role as it did in the recent Apple TV+ limited series, Bad Sisters. This is Kinlan’s first major part, and he acquits himself well. Both Gordon-Levitt and Reynor are seasoned actors who know how to make the most of their limited scenes.

The depiction of a mother/child relationship in Flora and Son is atypical, but it still winds up in a great spot thanks to the power of music and some fine performances. Carney’s love for both songs and filmmaking has yielded some memorable movies over the years, this one included.


Flora and Son opens in select theaters and on Apple TV+ on September 29.