Texans, Colts finish seasons sabotaged by injuries
In addition to the speculation that their future standing with their respective franchises might be in jeopardy, Texans coach Bill O'Brien and his counterpart with the Indianapolis Colts, Chuck Pagano, have something else specific in common.
Both have had to endure instability at the most important position on the field this season.
For Pagano, that meant surviving the campaign without franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, whose offseason shoulder concerns lingered into and throughout the season and forced the Colts to stick with former Patriots backup Jacoby Brissett, who will make his 15th start Sunday when Indianapolis (3-12) hosts the Houston Texans (4-11) at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Texans got more mileage from rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, who emerged off the bench midway through the season opener against Jacksonville, took the NFL by storm over the ensuing six weeks, then suffered a season-ending knee injury prior to Week 9. Houston is 1-7 since Watson was sidelined, losing their first game without him to the Colts on Nov. 5.
Both teams have collapsed under an avalanche of injuries beyond the starting signal callers. Without Luck and Watson, the Colts and Texans have labored to muster positive momentum.
"I'll say this," O'Brien said, "Andrew Luck is a great player, but I'll tell you, Jacoby's gone in there and done a good job. Jacoby's gotten better and better, picked up the offense. I know what the guys in New England thought of Jacoby, they thought very highly of him. But yeah, any time you lose your starting quarterback and you don't have him for any time during the regular season, that's a hard deal."
The Texans cratered under the guidance of their Week 1 starter, Tom Savage, winning only once with him under center -- against Arizona on Nov. 19. Three weeks later, Savage was lost to a concussion and backup T.J. Yates entered and immediately engineered two touchdown drives.
It's been downhill for Yates and the Houston offense since, totaling 13 points in two games.
"Yeah, it has been tough to recapture," Yates said. "Obviously, the caliber of defenses we've played the past two weeks (Jacksonville and Pittsburgh) are up there with the tops in the league.
"When I got in the game against San Fran, I just went in there and just played, just read and react and go out there and play football. That's what I need to get back to, is just trusting my instincts, trusting my eyes, just go out there and let it rip."
Yates is just 19 of 47 for 211 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 50.9 passer rating over the past two weeks. The Texans don't have any better options with Savage likely done for the season and Yates' backup, Taylor Heinicke, also in concussion protocol. Houston re-signed Josh Johnson to serve as the backup Sunday, a sign of their ravaged depth chart.
It's a far departure from where the Texans stood entering Week 8. The Colts can surely relate.
"Yeah, you pray to God because you don't want to see anybody lose anything or anybody," Pagano said. "I look at this team. Right before we were going to play them the first time and seeing a great, great, great young talent like Deshaun go down and where that team was and where they were headed."
The Texans' downward spiral has not only put O'Brien in harm's way relative to job security, it's knocked Houston into an unfamiliar position with O'Brien at the helm. The Texans haven't finished last in the AFC South since 2013, when a 2-14 campaign cost Gary Kubiak his job. Before that nightmare unfolded, Houston avoided the division basement five consecutive years.
With a loss Sunday, the Texans will finish last again. The same applies for the Colts, who would like to salvage their season with a minor accomplishment at the expense of Houston.
"We're going to work and compete and prepare just like we always do," Pagano said. "I know Bill's going to do the same thing and coach his team the same way. He's got great perspective; I've got great perspective. I've got the utmost respect for Coach O'Brien.
"He gets it. He's going to prepare his team accordingly; we're going to do the same thing. Forget records and all that stuff, they're fighting for the same thing that we're fighting for and (there's) no better way to finish a really, really tough and difficult season than going out winners."
Updated December 28, 2017