HOUSTON — Much righteous indignation was expended over seven NFL head coaches being fired immediately after the regular season. I am saving my outrage for those who survived.
It was those guys botching the start of the NFL playoffs on Saturday.
Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis staged a clinic of coaching ineptitude in what amounted to The AFC Junior Varsity Game. Or as league purists like to call it, the wild-card game.
Houston defeated Cincinnati, 19-13, an interesting set of numbers considering the Texans dominated every facet of this game except for punting. And in fairness, the guy from Cincy had way more practice.
First downs: Texans 24, Bengals 12
Total yards: Texans 420, Bengals 198
Time of possession: Texans 38:49, Bengals 21:11
This list goes on and on and on and includes Kubiak schooling Lewis in what amounted to a fight to be the tallest short person. Lewis OK’d and watched as his offensive coordinator Jay Gruden inexplicably underused running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and overused a screen play that worked exactly never. There was a misused timeout, a forgotten A.J. Green, a reliance on Jermaine Gresham and inability to adjust. And yet with under four minutes remaining, the Bengals were driving down the field for what possibly could have been the game-winning score.
Why this happened was inadvertently explained by Texans linebacker Bradie James when talking their defensive strategy.
“The biggest thing, well, a lot of us have been trying to talk about it — not giving up seven points. You see, when you give up seven points you don’t have a chance,” James said. “But when you keep a team to just kicking field goals, you keep ’em close and then you can pin your ears back.”
James needs to deliver this speech to Kubiak.
To him or Texans owner Bob McNair or somebody, because the reverse is also true. Kubiak employs quite possibly the most conservative game plan in the NFL. If this was politics, he’d be labeled a wingnut and decried by Glenn Beck as having lost touch with mainstream values. The guy always looks to be in a state of panic about when he can get his kicker on the field. Heck, there was a moment Saturday when the Texans took a delay on fourth-and-short with their punter on the field. The idea of doing that with his offense probably never crossed his mind even though Arian Foster was lethal Saturday.
It is why Texans fans boo kicker Shayne Graham every time he takes the field. It is not personal. They are sick of seeing him every single time there is a close call in the red zone.
“I love our crowd but they are getting spoiled,” Texans running back Arian Foster said. “They’re booing, and we’re OK. We’re OK, man.”
What is frustrating is the Texans could be a good team, at very least a competitive playoff team. As much as this pains me to say, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has his side ballin’. He may be a cupcake as a head coach, but he’s pretty good at coordinating. And J.J. Watt is just a freak of football nature.
Kubiak’s not beating the New England Patriots Sunday in Foxboro if he’s not willing to gamble, open his game plan up just a bit and play to win. We already saw that game, the Texans going up to Foxboro in their matching letter jackets and talk of Bulls on Parade and clear hearts, full eyes can’t lose . . . and getting pummeled.
New England absolutely embarrassed Houston on Dec. 10, a 42-14 whipping that started a slide to end this season. Almost every Texans player downplayed that first meeting with the usual clichés about this being a different season, about short memories, about how this game will be closer.
“I don’t think it was embarrassing. It just was a game and, on any given Sunday, if you don’t show up, it can happen,” James said. “New England did teach us a lot. They taught us you need to show up and bring the intensity to be a champion.”
This perspective comes from being in his 10th season, of knowing NFL teams do not get infinite kicks at the can, of knowing NFL teams oftentimes have to do a little impossible if they want to win a Super Bowl.
“I’m not worried,” McNair said when asked about playing New England again, which felt like the exact wrong thing to say.
He needs to worry because Tom Brady is not going to let the Texans off the mat if they keep constantly settling for field goals like the Bengals and QB Andy Dalton did. McNair needs to worry because Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has a firm grasp of how to best use his weapons, despite his critics. McNair needs to worry because Belichick is not going to Marvin Lewis this thing.
Belichick coaches with a big set of lower guts. And he rarely beats himself. And if Kubiak coaches like he did Saturday, the Texans do not stand a chance.
And in a couple of years or next, the pink slip may be his and there will be little outrage.