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Texans Prove to Be Playoff Pretender in Disappointing Loss to Steelers

Rivers McCown@riversmccownNFL AnalystOctober 21, 2014

AP Images

The Texans entered what would prove to be one of the toughest bits of their schedule three weeks ago when they traveled to Dallas with a chance to improve to 4-1.

Three weeks later, the Texans are 3-4 and find themselves adrift on the outskirts of the playoff picture after three losses that were not as close as the scores indicated. Following their loss to Indianapolis, the Texans limped into this week with just a 16.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, per Football Outsiders. With another loss in hand, Houston finds itself at least a half-game behind every serious AFC wild-card contender, staring at trying to come back from the grave with only the benefit of an AFC South schedule to help them. 

To say that the Texans lost this game to the Steelers would be an insult to losses. The Texans instead took a winnable road game with a 13-0 lead and set it on fire. They allowed the Steelers 24 straight points in the last 3:08 of the first half, with running back Arian Foster fumbling near the goal line, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing a tipped interception and the baffling ineptitude that is a two-minute drill in Fitzpatrick's hands. 

Here's what that looks like from the guise of win probability. The Texans went from an 83 percent chance of winning to a 17 percent chance. In less than four minutes of game time. 

Source: Advanced Football Analytics

Stunning, isn't it? It's hard to even be mad after witnessing such a complete collapse. The Washington Generals couldn't have scripted a scenario that incompetent. 

I've been hammering on Houston's quarterback issues all season, so it was no surprise at all that Fitzpatrick threw a gas can on the inferno with his interception. Fitzpatrick is by far the greatest liability for the Texans. Put simply, he's too inaccurate and doesn't have enough of a deep ball to threaten any competent defense. The only "magic" in Fitzmagic is his ability to string together a few completions against soft zone coverage to make the score "magically" seem like less of a blowout.  

There continues to be little hope for those beyond Fitzpatrick to make an impact. Turning to Ryan Mallett isn't a terrible idea, but given his lack of accuracy, there's little hope that he'll change Houston's fortunes. Rookie fourth-rounder Tom Savage has yet to be active for a game, and the polite way to describe his preseason of checkdowns was "rudimentary." 

Brian T. Smith @ChronBrianSmith

#Texans' O'Brien asked about 13-0 to 24-13 in less than three minutes: "These questions are like we lost 50-0. We lost by a touchdown."

Texans head coach Bill O'Brien lauded his team's ability to fight back after the game, per the Houston Chronicle. “These questions are like we lost 50-0. We lost by a touchdown," O'Brien said. 

Well, yeah, and it's good that the Texans seem to be in lockstep behind their new coach. Defensive end J.J. Watt is the most valuable non-quarterback in the NFL. Wideout DeAndre Hopkins has emerged as a standout receiver. Older veterans like wideout Andre Johnson and Foster have played well and offer hope for a short-term turnaround next season. 

In the NFL, you can have a team without a great quarterback and still make the playoffs. You can also have a crummy team littered with bottom-of-the-roster fodder with a great quarterback and make the playoffs. But if you mix a thin roster with a bad quarterback, your best-case scenario is, well, these Houston Texans

Stephanie Stradley @StephStradley

How do feel about losing your cooler of Coors Light? /O'Brien coach rant ad audition'd RT @PatDStat https://t.co/x7FMnFmYRd

That's where these Texans are. They're not the worst team in the NFL, and if they can take advantage of a weak schedule, they could even stay on the fringes of the playoff race. 

But there's just too many holes on this roster to expect Houston to suddenly buckle down and make a race of this. For every Andre Johnson, there's a Damaris Johnson. For every Johnathan Joseph, there's a middle linebacker who runs like he has tank treads for legs. For every quarterback on the Houston roster, they ... well, they don't have any actual NFL starters.

This was Houston's third straight game in the national spotlight, playing on Thursday Night Football, Monday Night Football and against the attention-sphere that is the Dallas Cowboys. This was supposed to be their chance at a coming-out party that would launch them into playoff contention.

In the paraphrased words of the immortal Larry Burns, "Put (them) back in, (they're) not done yet!"

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