The opening round of the NFL postseason wasn't pretty, but it was well contested. The Bengals, the Vikings, the Steelers, and the Seahawks all endured ugly weather and wild swings of fortune, but all four teams proved they belonged in the building come playoff season. Washington, likewise, built a nice lead before Aaron Rodgers remembered his orders to terminate a below-average defense.
There was only one team that looked completely out of place on Wild Card weekend, and that was Bill O'Brien's Houston Texans. The Chiefs handed the Texans an uncomplicated game script against a slow-paced offense, but Houston could only watch in helpless horror as quarterback Brian Hoyer went Full Jake Delhomme on a national stage.
Despite four turnovers, however, the Texans trailed only 13-0 at halftime. Considering Kansas City's sole first half touchdown came via its special teams, it's not crazy to suggest that the game could have been different—if, you know, the Texans could have played offense.
Texans fans know that they need a real quarterback. They've known that for a while now. I'm not breaking any new ground in football analysis by telling you the most important difference between Houston and Kansas City lay in the person playing the most important position on the field.
The Texans can be excused for not having a ready-made replacement under center during Matt Schaub's sudden decline, but O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith seemed happy to eschew any long-term strategy and its perceived risks. Why draft a quarterback who may not play when you could use the extra early pick on someone who could play a big role for you right away?
And so in 2014's quarterback-heavy draft class—which included Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Johnny Manziel, and Blake Bortles—the Texans left with Tom Savage. Two years down the line, with the benefit of hindsight, they were right to approach some of those quarterbacks with skepticism. Bridgewater's deep ball is suspect. Bortles is a human highlight machine—for the offense and the defense. Carr, as good of a season as he had in 2015, is disconcertingly skittish against pressure. And for Manziel even to be considered a troubled player, he'd first need to play football for two months in a row.
Each of those quarterbacks (outside of Manziel) has shown flashes of greatness, however, and those flashes are a damn sight better than the mediocrity the Texans got in its long-running attempt to pull an effective passer from New England's quarterback junkyard. Any of those quarterbacks (again, besides JFF) could be the difference between barely winning a sad-sack division and being a legitimate contender in an AFC that suddenly has zero good, healthy quarterbacks.
Saturday's loss only accentuated the verdict that Texans owner Bob McNair already delivered last month: "[Bill O'Brien] wants to get that franchise quarterback. Rick [Smith] wants to get it. Cal [McNair] wants to get it. And I want to get it," McNair told the Houston Chronicle. "We all want it. Fans want it. We're all on the same page there. There's no disagreement about that."
Wanting a franchise quarterback in the NFL is one thing; actually getting one is another matter.
The easiest bartering position to find a franchise quarterback is a high draft pick. After losing Saturday, Houston picks 22nd in the first round. I have not done my research on all of the top quarterback prospects yet, but most mock drafts point to Cal's Jared Goff and Memphis's Paxton Lynch being long gone by that point. North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, whom ESPN's Todd McShay mocked at the end of the first round, could be a candidate for Houston's pick. Of course, if Wentz wows teams in workouts, he might not be there at 22 either. Houston could also fulfill its meme destiny and pick up scouting darling, and O'Brien's former Penn State quarterback, Christian Hackenberg. Hey, it's not like collecting quarterbacks that O'Brien had previously worked with has failed before!
I'm not going to tell you it's impossible for the Texans to wind up with someone they consider a franchise quarterback. The Ravens were able to snag Joe Flacco in the back of the first round by trading up. The fact that Bridgewater and Carr made it to the end of the first round is proof that you can find decent prospects at that point even today. But the Texans can't repeat the mistakes of 2014 again. They're not going to draft any Andrew Luck-caliber prospects without giving up three first-round picks, which means they are going to have to take a risk on a young quarterback who has some flaws. They will need to actually plant a flag.
Drew Brees seems likely to stay in New Orleans now that Sean Payton is set for next season. Washington is reportedly serious about locking up Kirk Cousins. There won't be much in the way of attractive vets. The best Houston could wind up with is a Sam Bradford/Jay Cutler-esque type of quarterback—the type of quarterback that's just good enough to get a coach fired.
It's easy to understand Houston's reluctance to take a real stab at quarterback given how risk-averse the organization is. I'm not killing them for not jumping to overdraft from a weak 2015 class. Reasonable minds can disagree on the ceiling of first-round-caliber prospects. But unless you're lucky enough to land the No. 1 pick in a year with an unquestioned top quarterback prospect, the only way the quarterback question ever gets answered is by taking a chance. The Texans have tried everything else. Maybe it's time to try that.