Texans offensive tackle Eric Winston wasn’t speaking for anyone else when he said this week’s matchup against AFC South rival Indianapolis couldn’t come fast enough in wake of Sunday’s disappointing 28-13 loss to Carolina.
But he might as well had been speaking for the team, because all of the Texans are anxious to get to Indianapolis to wash the sour taste still in mouths from the debacle that ended their seven-game winning streak.
“I’d go play tomorrow if they’d let us,” Winston said without any hint of hesitation or soreness. “That’s the way I feel and I believe a lot of guys around here feel. That wasn’t us out there. That’s not what we are about.
“If they were to gas up the plane now and say let’s go to Indy I’d do it.”
It’s almost as though whoever did the NFL scheduling knew the Texans would come unglued against the Panthers. And the last thing they needed at this point in the season is a full week of preparation to relive the nightmare. With such a quick turnaround, the Texans barely have enough time to watch film much less keeping rehashing the past.
The AFC South champs have what amounts to be two full days of practice Monday and Tuesday before boarding their charter flight to Indianapolis on Wednesday.
“I don’t know if it does,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of whether the quick turnaround helps. “But that’s what it is.
“We’ve got a lot of things to fix and maybe just a quick turnaround is a good thing.”
Kubiak is right, there does seem to be abundance of things that need to be fixed, especially if the Texans hope to make their first ever postseason appearance a memorable one. But they have two immediate needs that must be addressed are turnovers and third down defense if they hope to have a chance against the Colts, who are coming off their first win of the season Sunday.
The most glaring problem right now may be the emerging turnovers issues. The Texans had three turnovers Sunday, of two were converted into Panthers touchdowns. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates threw two interceptions in his third NFL start.
And the normally sure-handed Arian Foster committed his second counted fumble in as many weeks (his fumble against Cincinnati was ruled not a fumble when the tape was sent to the NFL offices last week) and he now has three credited fumbles on the season. Foster got the day started off on the wrong foot Sunday when he fumbled on the on the second play of the game at the Texans own 26 yard line, giving Cam Newton and the Panthers point blank aim at the end zone. It took just four plays before Newton dropped a 26-yard bomb into the hands of Steve Smith to put Carolina up 7-0.
“We didn’t come out with a lot of energy and I take a lot of blame with that because when you turn the ball over so early like that, it kind of deflates the energy,” said Foster, who went over 1,000 yards rushing Sunday for the second straight season. “When you turn the ball over early it never helps.”
But Yates, who certainly looked the part of a wide-eyed rookie that locks in on receivers, also did his share of damage. His first pick to linebacker Jordan Senn helped set up tight end Richie Brockel’s fumble-rooskie seven-yard touchdown at the end of the second quarter to give the Panthers a commanding 21-0 lead going into halftime.
Yates’ second pick didn’t result in any Panthers points in the fourth quarter but it was just as damaging because it ended any chance of a comeback.
“I’m going to look at the film hard,” Yates said. “I’ve got a lot of stuff to learn from, a lot of mistakes made on the field.”
More to the point, Kubiak has to figure how to minimize the opportunities his young quarterback has to make mistakes. Having receiver Andre Johnson back as a safety net for Yates would be helpful but it certainly doesn’t seem wise to take a chance on his hamstring at this point.
“Our backs have turned the ball over and our quarterback is now turning it over a couple weeks in a row,” said Kubiak, whose team has now committed five turnovers in the last four weeks. “We are built on not doing that, and finding a way to run the ball, protect the ball and make people beat us.”
The Texans obviously did little of that Sunday and they also did not play consistently good on defense, which has been a staple all season. With defensive coordinator Wade Phillips at home recuperating from kidney and gallstone surgery, the Texans took a couple steps backwards and completely came apart when the team could least afford to.
After the offense had pulled within eight points of the lead early in the fourth and seemed to finally have the momentum, the defense gave up an 80-yard drive that ended with running back DeAngelo Williams running straight up the middle untouched for a 24-yard touchdown that sealed it.
“We’re not use to that,” said linebacker Connor Barwin. “That’s not the way we play defense obviously, but they came out and made some plays and didn’t make plays.”
What was most damaging is that the Texans didn’t make plays defensively when they needed to. The Texans were a mess on third downs, allowing the Panthers to convert nine third downs or 64 percent of such opportunities. The Texans offense, meanwhile, converted just 2 of 9 third down chances all day.
“The most disappointing thing was the discipline,” said linebackers coach Reggie Herring, who was the acting defensive coordinator in Phillips’ place Sunday and will likely assume the role again Thursday night. “The overall discipline of our defense has been outstanding all year. We have been excellent on third down.”
The Texans will need to get back to that and more with the playoffs just around the corner and the Colts on the immediate horizon.