All Apologies

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November 30, 2005
All Apologies

by Ric Sweeney

As a friend of mine often suggests when the drama quotient has a tendency to rear its ugly head, “Settle the kettle, people. Settle the kettle.” Yes, the Texans blew a 21-point lead Sunday – more accurately, they blew a 10-point lead with 34 seconds left – but let’s not get too carried away. This is what 1-10 teams do. It’s also, unfortunately, what 10-6 wildcard teams, too – damn you, Frank Reich! Damn you to hell! Sorry – momentary visit to Crazytown; I’m back now.

So of course Sunday’s loss to the Rams was disappointing. But it was far from cataclysmic. You don’t watch the well-established league’s worst team get thoroughly outplayed for 11 straight weeks and then blow a gasket when they can’t hold a lead. They’re 1-10 for a reason. When you’re 10-1, Marcus Coleman holds onto the onside kick. Or Jeff Wilkins’ field goal sails wide right. When you’re 1-10… well, we all saw what happens to those teams. So enough invoking Choke City, Buffalo, Phi Slamma Jamma or any of the other therapy-inspiring losses we’ve endured as a collective sports fan. Those hurt. This one… not so bad.

In fact, the ESPN Sunday Night announcer in me thought there was a lot to like about Sunday’s collapse. First of all, hats off to the team for building a 21-point lead in the first place. I’m not kidding – that comment was not dipped into a vat of sarcasm. It sure beats the alternative –and for too long, the norm around here: being out of the game as soon as the kicker’s toe made contact with the football on the opening kick-off. Consider that in its 10 previous games – 600 minutes of god-awful football – the Texans had held the lead for exactly 17:46. Think about that… let its awfulness sink in… On Sunday, they cradled a lead for 52:25. Unfortunately, the game lasted another 16:32, but let’s remember our first tentative steps as a baby way back when before we cast too much judgment on this teetering tot of a team. You have to start somewhere, and starting, but not finishing, is better than not starting at all.

I’d rather watch an offense and defense attack its opponent than sit through another game in which both units sit back passively and let whatever’s going to happen happen, impervious to stop it, which is how we spent the first ten weeks of the season. Against the Rams, Houston went for it, at last. David Carr threw – threw! – with a fourth quarter lead and the ball inside the Rams’ 20. This wasn’t a “Let’s play for the field goal” approach and I liked it, even if it backfired. You’re 1-9 – go down fighting! The pessimist would be quick to ask where this play calling and execution have been all year, but that pessimist is too busy trying to locate silver linings amidst a herd of thunderhead clouds. Work with me, people!

And in my best Chandler Bing: Could I have BEEN more wrong about David Carr? Mere hours after my (some would say) historic leap off his bandwagon, Carr turns in his best, most professional performance of the year… leaving me even more confused as to just what to do with him. Harvey Keitel’s Vincent Wolfe from Pulp Fiction would implore me to not to get too far ahead of myself, albeit in a way much too graphic to reprint, but isn’t it refreshing to at last head into a game wondering if our franchise quarterback has finally put some things together? Again, maybe it’s too little, too late, but at least he has something to build on for a change. It beats a dreary performance of short outs, minimal yardage, ill-timed interceptions and no points, doesn’t it? I’ll take a game you have no business losing but do anyway over the team’s usual sleep walk session any day of the week if it showcases our quarterback’s talents and gives us some hope for tomorrow. By the way, welcome to the 2005 season, Andre Johnson – glad you could join us.

And while he’s a goner regardless, and has been a target of much (deserved) criticism of late (including a questionable approach to the second half), you have to on some level admire the job Dom Capers did this week. Again, I’m not excusing his performance up to this point – he still needs to go – but he took a broken team, weathered a mini-storm when one of his players (Marcus Coleman) called out the coaching staff, navigated a traditionally gorge-intensive holiday and then, against all those odds, Capers somehow had his team playing hard in a meaningless game. I have trouble getting up for work if it’s cold outside; I can’t imagine having any desire to be beaten further into the ground for 60 minutes every week. Especially on the backend of four-day eating binge. No, Capers probably didn’t vault to the top of the Coach of the Year rankings, but for a guy universally deemed nice almost to a fault, I’m happy that in a blur of a season, he had one shinning moment. Why, if this were the NCAA Tournament, right now, Jim Nantz would be waxing poetically and cueing the music. It almost brings a chill to the back of the neck…

Look, I’m no apologist, OK? It’s been a long, awful season. I’ve spent my fair share of Sundays rolling around on my bank statements because I’ve invested nothing in this team – no tickets, no NFL Direct package, nothing. I’m well aware that a moral victory in the face of a crushing loss will not wipe the bitter taste of the 2005 season from our mouths. They blew a lead they shouldn’t have. The execution down the stretch was awful, the play calling, especially on defense, too conservative and there’s no excuse for letting a third-stringer beat you.

It would be embarrassing except, how could it even remotely surprise or upset anyone in the midst of this season? If it did, you obviously haven’t been paying close attention this year. But maybe – MAYBE – the loss will be the start of a turnaround. We’re going to find out a lot about the make-up of this team Sunday in Baltimore. For the first time in a long time, I’m actually looking forward to the game. Sure beats wondering if NBC is rerunning Matlock episodes at 12 noon on Sunday, doesn’t it? (They’re not, by the way – I checked. Just case – hey, they’re 1-10!)

What else could Ric Sweeney say? Everyone is gay.

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