In the week leading up to Houston’s 26–23 overtime win against the Colts on Sunday night, Texans coach Bill O’Brien told his team that this is when you find your identity.
There comes a point in October or early November, he said, where you have to decide what team you want to be.
For the 2016 Texans, their identity has been inexorably linked to the play of quarterback Brock Osweiler.
“We showed our identity tonight,” Osweiler said after the game. “Will the game be perfect? Probably not. But I can promise you this team will fight for 60, 60-plus minutes for that matter, every single week no matter how the game goes.”
You can strip away the sports clichés there to understand that the Texans are going to have to live with Osweiler’s inconsistency. It was clear on tape last year with the Broncos—Houston’s Week 7 opponent—when Osweiler threw 10 touchdowns to six picks, but Houston felt comfortable enough with it, as it gave him a $72 million contract in the off-season.
Those inconsistencies have not gone away this season, even as the 4–2 Texans sit atop the no good, very bad AFC South. In fact, they’ve been Osweiler’s unfortunate signature throughout 2016 thus far. He’s thrown at least one interception in every game this season. But Houston is willing to live with those flaws so long as he can will the Texans to a victory like he did on Sunday night.
“I think he showed what he can do,” Texans owner Bob McNair told reporters after the game. “We need to do it for four quarters and not wait until the end, but it shows you that he has the ability and the mindset and the determination and confidence to lead the team back from a just very deep hole that we were in.”
Leading up to his fourth-quarter comeback, Osweiler was completing 50% of his passes against Indianapolis for 89 yards and an interception. That pick came on yet another forced ball to DeAndre Hopkins and gave the Colts the ball at the Houston 20.
Of Osweiler’s eight interceptions this season (which are just two away from Ryan Fitzpatrick’s league-high mark of 11), six of them have been on passes intended for Hopkins and not one could be considered Nuk’s fault. The throws have been short, wide, behind him and in traffic. Against the Patriots, Osweiler didn’t notice Jamie Collins playing zone defense and threw it right to him.
Earlier in the week, Osweiler admitted he needed to find Hopkins in more advantageous positions. Knowing he needed to do a better job of scanning the coverage at the line, Osweiler was off on his first three passes to Hopkins Sunday night. The first was an unnecessary jump ball, the next went high and the third and painfully low and all were incomplete.
Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey said it’s about managing the highs and lows of an NFL season for Osweiler. That could include the heated exchange Osweiler and O’Brien reportedly shared earlier in the week (one that Osweiler didn’t deny after the game), but it definitely includes the dry spots of this year. Through just six games, the Texans have gone on separate streaks of seven and six quarters without an offensive touchdown. Together, those two empty stretches make up more than half of the season so far, and yet the Texans are a game up on the second-place Titans in the division.
One of the season's highs—their Sunday night comeback—was sparked by Lamar Miller’s 10-yard catch from Osweiler that featured a change-of-direction move that rarely works in the NFL. A miserable Indianapolis three-and-out gave the Texans the ball near midfield with less than 2 minutes left. Three plays later, Houston tied the game when a Colts safety whiffed on C.J. Fiedorowicz’s 26-yard touchdown catch.
But no play showed Osweiler’s promise more than the 36-yard pass to Jaelen Strong in overtime that put the Texans in field-goal range. Osweiler saw Strong had press-man coverage with no safety help, and he remembered that coverage from an earlier play when looking at pictures on the sideline. Osweiler motioned to Strong with his left hand to run a go route, and he put a perfectly placed ball into Strong’s hands along the sideline that left a chip-shot field goal.]
Gone were the boos that had filled NRG Stadium earlier in the night, though part of the reason is because so many fans had already filed out of the stadium at halftime.
“I think a lot of fans tonight missed a terrific performance in the third and fourth quarter by a team,” said Osweiler, who added that he understood their frustrations.
But fans are going to have to take the ups with the downs this year, because that’s what the Texans signed up for when they invested in Osweiler.