The Houston Texans dealt with quarterback problems all season, so it was fitting that more struggles at the position ended their season in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
Brian Hoyer signed a two-year contract before this season, but his five-turnover debacle in the loss to the Chiefs could have the Texans looking for a new quarterback. Though he had a career-high four interceptions and a fumble in the 30-0 blowout to Kansas City, coach Bill O’Brien was careful not to place all the blame for the defeat on Hoyer.
“I think everybody has to look at themselves and figure out what they can do better,” O’Brien said. “I think at that position, it’s a very difficult position. Obviously, he didn’t play well (Saturday). I mean, that’s obvious. But nobody on offense really lit it up (Saturday), including the coaches.”
Hoyer was asked if he expects to keep his job as Houston’s starter next season.
“That’s nine months away (but) I am going to prepare every day like I am that’s for sure,” he said. “I owe it to those guys in that locker room and these coaches to do everything I can to be a better player the next time I step on the field.”
Struggles by Hoyer got him benched in the season opener and the Texans started Ryan Mallett for four games. But he won just one of those games and soon Hoyer was starting again and Mallett was released after missing a team flight. The Texans had to start both T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden late in the season when Hoyer missed three games because of two concussions in less than a month.
Their offense got another blow in October when they lost star running back Arian Foster to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury.
Despite all those setbacks, Houston managed to win seven of its last nine games to rebound from a 2-5 start and win the AFC South for its first playoff berth since 2012.
They did it with a defense led by J.J. Watt that improved steadily after a slow start to the year. Watt had another standout season, leading the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks to join Reggie White as the only players in history to have three 15-sack seasons in their first five years in the league. He also had 76 tackles, 29 tackles for losses, 50 quarterback hits, batted down eight passes, forced three fumbles and recovered one.
He did it despite fighting through injuries for most of the second-half of the season. He played the last four regular-season games with a broken left hand and dealt with a nagging groin injury for the last couple of months of the season. That groin injury got worse in Houston’s playoff game and he missed most of the second half; he will have surgery Tuesday.
Watt, who won his second Defensive Player of the Year award, last year wasn’t interested in looking at the bright side of what Houston did this season.
“Did we do some good things? Yeah, we obviously turned it around from a crappy situation,” he said. “But I’m not too big into that whole narrative of: `Just look at what they did good.’ Because quite frankly at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It’s about results … I want to win a world championship. Until we do that, no, I’m not going to be satisfied and it’s going to hurt whenever we get knocked out before that.”
Watt got help on defense from linebacker Whitney Mercilus who had a career-high 12 sacks to give Texans two players with at least 10 sacks for the first time in franchise history. They also got 13 games out of Jadeveon Clowney, who played just four games as a rookie because of various injuries. The top overall pick in the 2014 draft finished with 4 1/2 sacks after failing to get one in his first season.
Another bright spot for the Texans and perhaps the biggest reason the offense was able to stay afloat amid all the quarterback changes was the career-best season by receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The third-year receiver was named to his first Pro Bowl after finishing third in the NFL with a career-best 1,521 yards receiving and his 11 touchdown catches were a franchise-record.
Now Texans fans must wait to see if Hoyer will return to throw to him next season or if the team will find a new quarterback in the offseason.