Schaub gets first chance to change fans’ minds

HOUSTON — The one thing everybody seems to “know” about Matt Schaub is that he is not quite as good as he seems.

This has come to define the Houston Texans quarterback’s relationship with Houston Texans fans. Nobody thinks Schaub isn’t any good at all. Everybody can remember those 4,000-yard seasons. They can pick out a handful of anecdotes to prove Schaub’s toughness. Tellingly, most Houstonians even seem to think the Texans would have gone to the Super Bowl last year had Schaub been healthy.

If he is good until proven bad, it would be difficult to construct an argument that would get a “bad” conviction in court. And yet, boy, there’s a little something missing, isn’t there?

It was barely a month ago when it seemed Schaub had finally filled in that ambiguous space. The Texans were going to coast into the AFC’s No. 1 seed. Schaub was healthy and playing about as well as anybody. The Texans have never relied on Schaub the way Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are relied upon — he was never going to be the big star – but Schaub had finally shown he was capable of doing it all — throwing for gobs of yards (when asked), remaining healthy and leading a great team.

Through it all, there were always the “Yeah, but he’s still Matt Schaub” people around town. These are people with long, selective memories. They long ago said Schaub lacked that indefinable quality that makes a Super Bowl quarterback, and were willing to ride out his good play long enough to be proven right.

Which is exactly what has happened.

Through 12 games, Schaub had completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,062 yards (255 per game), 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The last four weeks, his completion percentage is the same, but his yards per game are down (236) and he’s thrown three interceptions against one touchdown pass. Most disturbingly, the Texans are averaging just 16.3 points over the last month, in which they went 1-3.

As always, the blame is bountiful enough to be shared by all, but it is clear Schaub’s play has dipped as the games got bigger, fulfilling the prophesy of so many stubborn fans.

“I’ve got to play better,” Schaub said. “Our whole team, everyone across the board has to pick their game up especially this time of year, but I definitely do.”

Texans fans will recognize this as a highly Schaubian remark. He likes to deal in generalized truth. Who could argue against his thesis that everybody, himself included, needs to play better this time of year? Give them what they want without giving them a headline. It is a skill every bit as learned as reading the blitz.

Schaub would have you believe he doesn’t really care what people outside the Texans locker room think of him. Everybody says that, of course, but with him it does come off as believable. He’s 31 years old with a wife and a couple of young kids. He has played in the NFL for nine seasons. At some point you just are what you are, you know? He probably is not going to become John Elway the last four or five years of his career.

But there is still time for him to become … something.

As you’ll recall, John Elway didn’t quite become John Elway until the end of his career, either. This is not to say Schaub has that kind of talent, but it is to say that, even nine years into Schaub’s career, we don’t really know what he is yet.

The quarterbacking hierarchy is established in the postseason. And this is why Schaub is such a tricky study. Whatever it is that separates him from the great ones is not measurable, and might not even exist. Eli Manning became great in part because David Tyree trapped a ball against his helmet.  Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion, but he was 9-for-21 in the first one. Peyton Manning was a confirmed choker, until he wasn’t.

Legacies happen to quarterbacks as much as legacies are created by them.

What has happened to Schaub, for the most part, is that he has been on teams that simply were not good enough to compete. For most of his career, he has been an effective or prolific quarterback on teams with defenses so bad it didn’t matter how good the offense was. Last year Houston fixed that, but he was injured for the playoff run.

So at age 31, Schaub gets his first real chance to change people’s minds about him. Saturday the Texans play the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs. It will be Schaub’s first playoff start.

He says he is not anxious.

“I’ve been the same guy since I stepped foot here,” he said. “This is how I am.”