In between, Houston’s all-time passing leader helped create the term “Schaubing,” a synonym for throwing an interception that is returned for a touchdown. When you set a league record by doing so four games in a row, this type of branding is inevitable. It may not have been as ubiquitous as “twerking,” but in NFL circles it was equally notorious.
When Case Keenum started and finished three straight games after Schaub was injured in the Week 6 contest versus the St. Louis Rams, most Texans fans breathed a sigh of relief. In a desperate effort to keep his job, head coach Gary Kubiak must have determined that his supposed skill at developing quarterbacks just might keep him employed.
But like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and any number of Dracula-like characters in today’s ghoulish world of entertainment, Schaub kept coming back to life.
He took over for a struggling Keenum against the Oakland Raiders in Week 11, but was even more ineffective than the man he replaced. The Texans lost that one, then came up short against both the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots in the following weeks.
Those three losses at home just made the hole that much deeper for players and coaches alike.
Keenum started the second half 4-of-10 in the Week 14 road game in Jacksonville, and Kubiak could not help himself. In came Schaub once again, but lo and behold, he went 6-of-7 on a 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown to Garrett Graham.
Unfortunately, the fourth quarter was just a reminder of his shortcomings in the red zone. One trip ended in a field goal that made the score 24-20, the other a fourth-down incompletion from the Jaguars' 13-yard line.
The Texans had the ball with two minutes, 21 second to go down by four, and if Schaub had any magic left, now was the time to let it show. Old habits are hard to break, however, and his tendency to ignore the linebacker sitting on routes in the intermediate zone came back to bite him again.
He failed to notice Rob Ninkovich of the Patriots in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs, and Daryl Smith in the 30-9 whipping administered by the Baltimore Ravens this season. Both slipups ended in interceptions, and this time Geno Hayes would be the recipient of an easy pick.
All Hayes had to do was backpedal a few yards and watch the quarterback’s head. He could see Graham was not the intended target and could afford to gamble because the Jags had double coverage on Andre Johnson and an extra linebacker in the area.
Staring down a defender directly in his line of sight, Schaub still looked for Johnson. The decision was as predictable as a Dane Cook punchline and the result as head-shaking as any Nicolas Cage movie role over the last 10 years.
The devotion to his on-field alter ego may have been Kubiak’s undoing.
During the press conference where Bob McNair announced the firing, the owner turned into Van Helsing and rammed a stake through the heart of the symbiotic being that is “Schaubiak.” He did so by making it clear who would lead the offense for the rest of the season:
We’ve been evaluating it every game and asking the question, ‘What’s in the best interest of the organization?’ We have a young quarterback, Case Keenum, and we need to find out whether Case is capable of being a starter or whether he’s capable of being a backup and the way you find that out is by playing him.
Obviously, pulling Keenum regardless of the circumstances was not “in the best interest of the organization.”
The quarterback who was signed to a franchise-player contract in 2012 has been officially reduced to lame-duck status for the rest of 2013. Spotrac.com has Schaub listed with a cap hit of $10.5 million over the next three seasons, and he is certain to be released to make room for his replacement.
Going forward, what can other teams do with a guy like this?
As long as the Texans were a fringe team, Matt Schaub was considered as a fringe quarterback. Once they started competing for a division crown, expectations started to rise and Schaub was expected to follow suit.
A look at the record books makes the case that he did just that. Playing with bad-to-mediocre teams for five of his seven seasons in Houston, his all-time rankings from Pro Football Reference (PFR) look impressive at first glance:
Passer ranking: 90.6 (11th)
Career completion percentage: 64.1 percent (ninth)
Interception percentage: 2.6 percent (18th)
Adjusted passing yards per attempt: 7.34 (12th)
Net passing yards per attempt: 6.93 (seventh)
Adjusted net passing yards per attempt: 6.61 (ninth)
These numbers take into account the decline of Schaub into rank incompetence over his last twelve games, starting with the regular-season loss to the Patriots in 2012. That means his 13 interceptions and zero touchdowns in seven of those games still place him among the best at his position, statistically speaking.
His winning percentage of 53.5 is more indicative of his true worth taking snaps from center. Signature wins are few and far between, beyond beating the Patriots for the only time in 2009 and taking down the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens while running their record to 11-1 in 2012.
Schaub is represented by Athletes First, one of the largest agencies handling NFL talent. When they discuss his value in the marketplace, the first thing that will be mentioned is taking a backup role. By the start of the 2014 season, he will be 33 years old.
No team is going to peg their prospects to a starter of that age who is coming off the worst season he has ever had.
Playing a backup role sounds like the fast track to the end of your career. There is more than a nugget of truth to that assumption. Most backups will spend their time in the NFL holding a clipboard and waiting for the call.
In 2013, there were only 13 second-string quarterbacks PFR could identify that had attempted 500 or more passes over the last five years.
The most accomplished veterans in that bunch were David Garrard of the New York Jets, Matt Hasselbeck of the Tennessee Titans and none other than Matt Schaub. Other names that might ring a bell are Kyle Orton of the Dallas Cowboys, Rex Grossman of the Washington Redskins and Josh McCown of the Chicago Bears.
Schaub wishes he could luck out like the 34-year-old McCown. The Bears backup has 13 touchdowns to a single interception in his five starts and is fast making soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Jay Cutler look expendable.
Since the introduction of unrestricted free agency in 1993, only three 33-year-old quarterbacks came to a new team and attempted over 500 passes after their arrival per PFR game logs.
The most notable is Kurt Warner, who joined the Arizona Cardinals at age 34 in 2005 and led them to Super Bowl XLIII in the 2008 season. The other two are Jon Kitna, who played two full seasons with the Detroit Lions in 2006-07, and Wade Wilson, who started 27 games for the New Orleans Saints in 1992-94.
Like the majority of his brethren, Matt Schaub will never get to say “I’m going to Disney World” in the NFL’s ultimate game.
But he can say he heard the roar of the crowd, made more coin than most of us will see in our lifetime and was able to play a game for a living. Who among us wouldn’t be happy with that consolation prize?