It’s easy to imagine the quandary Texans coach Gary Kubiak could have been in coming into Sunday’s regular-season finale against Tennessee.
The decision was whether it is more damaging to enter the playoffs on a three-game losing streak or perhaps without one or two of the Texans key players. Based on the Texans inactive list, Kubiak made the wise decision to go into the playoffs healthy over winning.
Key players like running back Arian Foster, tight end Owen Daniels and cornerback Johnathan Joseph didn’t even suit up, while pretty much all of the starters were given the second half off during what turned out to a wild finish during 23-22 loss to the playoff hopeful Titans at Reliant Stadium.
Every decision made Sunday was really about next week’s playoff against Cincinnati, including the final outcome that came down to Kubiak opting to go for seven-yard 2-point conversion instead of going for the chip shot extra-point for the tie and a chance to win it in overtime.
“You never go for two there in any other situation, where we were physically today … “ said Kubiak, whose team could have done no better or worse than the No.3 AFC seed it had coming into Sunday. “At the end of the game, I had a tight end playing (strong side) linebacker (Garrett Graham).
“For our football team, I had to get them to next week, so my mindset the whole was to win to try to win the football game.”
But when they didn’t, the story was much more about what is next than about the AFC South champs going into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak.
Sure it would have been nice to see all of the problems of the last few weeks corrected, but being healthy for whoever comes into Reliant Stadium is much more important. The Texans had enough of a scare when third-string rookie turned starting quarterback T.J. Yates was pulled following the opening touchdown drive when he suffered a bruise to his non-throwing left shoulder.
“We’re not worried about that at all,” said inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “Guys went out there well and fought, but the losing streak … It’s a new season. Once we start next week everybody is 0-0 and we have to find a way to go 1-0.”
At this point of the season the franchise’s first playoff berth is all that matters.
But even in losing the Texans (10-6) theoretically gained much more in defeat. Star receiver Andre Johnson returned to the lineup for the first time in three games from his latest hamstring injury and gained some necessary confidence before the playoffs.
Backup running backs Ben Tate and Derrick Ward got to carry the load in Foster’s absence. Forgotten about H-back James Casey got to show he can be a target in the offense, catching all seven passed thrown his way for 91 yards. Reserve linebacker Tim Dobbins played well in the second half, coming up with the fumble-jarring hit that gave the Texans a chance to win the game at the end. Even defensive coordinator Wade Phillips got back into after missing the last two games while recovering from kidney and gallbladder surgery.
The biggest bonus, however, was finally getting veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme some snaps with the offense in the event he is pressed into duty next week or beyond. Yates would never have left the game for such an insignificant injury in an ordinary week, but the prevailing thought was not to take the risk in a game Kubiak had planned to play Delhomme significant snaps anyways.
Delhomme, who joined the team in early December, looked like a quarterback who hadn’t taken a snap all season at times but once he settled down he actually looked serviceable. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 211 yards and one touchdown.
“He was playing with a lot of different guys,” Kubiak said. “I would say I played a lot of people in the second, so he was playing with a lot of different linemen, played with a different center the whole second half, but he did some good stuff.
“He’s played a lot of football so he knew what he was doing.”
The good news is Delhomme likely won’t have to exert himself next week. Everybody admitted Yates could have come back in the first quarter after leaving the field for evaluation. The coach in Kubiak would not allow him to proclaim Yates healthy enough to play next week, but it’s not even a worry.
As sure the Texans will have their 101st straight sellout at Reliant next week when the Bengals come to town, Yates will be on the field leading the Texans in Matt Schaub’s absence.
“I don’t even need it to play,” Yates said of his left shoulder. “I’ll be ready to play.”
And so will the Texans as a whole, three-game losing streak and all.
“It’s a new season and it’s 0-0,” Foster said. “It’s a brand new season. Everybody is confident. I’m excited, they are excited.”