November 17, 2006
Kubiak’s First Stand
by Ric Sweeney
He had to rip the roster down to its core, jettisoning one miserable player after another. He undertook the seemingly thankless task of rebuilding a shell-shocked former golden boy quarterback with sky’s the limit talent who endured having his future brutally beaten out of him for four solid years. He had to overhaul the offense… and defense, installing time-tested, proven systems on both sides of the ball that actually maximized available talent and put players in a position to succeed. And he began the process of filling the locker room with a mix of youthful promise and veteran know-how, stocking a barren roster with actual talent.
In other words, Gary Kubiak had to cram everything the previous regime never got around to doing, all into an exhaustive first nine months on the job. And not surprisingly, the initial returns on his efforts during the season’s first eight weeks looked discombobulated, inferior, and all too often a lot like the team he was brought in to exorcise and raise from the dead. It didn’t help that the NFL apparently took no mercy on the poor guy, handing the Texans a brutal opening schedule against nine teams that have gone a combined 43-34 so far this year.
But Kubiak weathered the storm, stayed the course, and various other statements of his steadfast My Way Or The Highway philosophy, and now, lo and behold, he seems to have the Texans pointed in the right direction; a gigantic accomplishment considering this time last year, they were pointed straight to hell with a rocket pack on their back.
This is the best team in franchise history. Let me emphatically restate that: THIS IS THE BEST TEAM IN FRANCHISE HISTORY. Granted, that’s like picking the “best” Nickleback song, but, still… The strides the Texans have made in just a relatively short time are nothing short of miraculous.
Dunta Robinson, Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans are now cornerstones of a defensive unit getting better every week; Owen Daniels is the tight end David Carr never had; Eric Moulds the mentor Andre Johnson’s always needed. Kubiak’s vision for the kind of team he hopes to build is slowly, but surely starting to come into focus, and not a moment too soon.
Sunday’s win in Jacksonville kicked off what could be the franchise’s single most important stretch of games in the entire history of ever. Over the next four weeks, they’ll play exactly one team Peter King would deem worthy of his column (the Jets); otherwise, they face three teams who, combined, have won fewer games than the Chicago Bears.
All the questions we had leading into this season will be answered shortly; I almost wish that announcer who dramatically whets your appetite for next week’s LOST were here to give the proper weight to what’s about to unfold, because it truly is historic in the context of this franchise. If the Texans can go 3-1 over that stretch, they’ll ride into Foxboro on December 17 at a rather frisky 6-7 record and with back-to-back, “OK, rookie – show us what you got” man ups against the Pats and Colts.
No one’s expecting a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, no one was expecting the team to fall to 2-14, either. So winning 3 or 4 games this year and passing it off as “improvement” isn’t going to float too many boats in these parts. Esoteric progress and moral victories is soooooo 1973 Oilers.
To grab an apathetic fan base by its neck and shake it from its slumber requires a definitive statement. And beating the Bills, Raiders and Titans is not a definitive statement – you should do that, regardless. But if you use those victories against the Bills, Raiders and Titans as a springboard for sucker punching New England or Indianapolis in mid-December… it’ll go a long way to reigniting the flame we used to carry for this team before Charley Casserly and his merry band of con men snuffed it out with a giant Cleveland Steamer.
That has to be Kubiak’s end game; stealing one we didn’t expect – that’s the olive branch he needs to continue his massive rehabilitation. He’s on the right course; but few seem to care anymore – they want results yesterday; we’ve all waited long enough. Smacking a great team in the mouth, though, will grant the new regime the same grace period the previous one enjoyed after going all final 30 minutes of The Departed on the Cowboys about a billion years ago.
If the team can grant Kubiak this integral piece of the larger puzzle, he’ll have the space needed to continue building and rebuilding his roster. And maybe, just maybe – this expansive project we all assumed would take two or three years might arrive next year. But it all begins with TCOB’ing the Bills this weekend. The future of the franchise may very well depend on it.
Ric Sweeney will be a very busy, but happy man this weekend, but can’t really talk about it.
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