Defense is shredded once again in playoff rout

After perfect start, Texans get their dreams crushed in season-ending 51-31 loss to the Chiefs in divisional playoffs

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For a quarter, the Texans dreams were coming true. Dreams of hosting an AFC Championship Game. Dreams of making it to that game for the first time in franchise history. Dreams of upsetting the Kansas City Chiefs.

In the second quarter, they woke up to a harsh reality that did not end until the game was over.

After racing to a 24-0 lead, the Texans collapsed, giving up 28 second-quarter points en route to losing to the Chiefs 51-31. The Chiefs will host Tennessee next week in the AFC Championship. The Texans will spend an off-season thinking about what might have been.

A tale of two quarters

The game could not have started any better. The Texans marched right down the field on their opening drive and scored when Deshaun Watson hit Kenny Stills for a touchdown pass on a busted coverage.

After the Chiefs dropped a third-down pass, the Texans blocked a punt, returned it for a touchdown and led 14-0.

Kansas City muffed a punt inside the 10, the Texans recovered and it was 21-0. After a field goal early in the second quarter, it was 24-0. The dreams began in full force.

Then it all collapsed.

The Chiefs got a big kick return after the field goal, then quickly scored on two plays. On the next possession, the Texans went three and out, then inexplicably faked a punt deep in their own end and failed. Kansas City quickly made it 24-14. On the ensuing kickoff, Deandre Carter fumbled the ball away, setting up another Kansas City score, and it was suddenly 24-21, and the Texans were essentially beaten. The Chiefs would march 90 yards to finish the quarter to take a 28-24 halftime lead they would never relinquish. Eventually they would score 41 straight points en route to the victory.

Microcosm of the season

The game unfortunately showed us what the Texans are. At times, a dominant, unstoppable force. At times, a clueless group that can't get out of their own way. We saw both on Sunday. So many times they made us think they could be special. The win at KC early in the season. The win over the Patriots. Key divisional victories over the Titans and Colts.

They also made us think they were hopeless. The loss in Baltimore. The home loss to Denver. We saw both teams on Sunday. The defense, a wreck all year, was at its worst. They could not stop tight end Travis Kelce, or anyone else for that matter. They could not get any pressure on Patrick Mahomes. They gave up chunk plays. The Chiefs are an extremely talented offense, but the Texans gave almost no resistance. In fact, they gave up touchdowns on SEVEN straight possessions, and none of them were ever in doubt. Whether or not it was personnel, Romeo Crennel, or a combination, major changes need to happen on that side of the ball.

It really is a shame. They came up short in a bizarre game that they had every chance to put away early. But the Chiefs are one of the most explosive offenses in football, and giving them short fields turned the game around.

The bottom line

What does it all mean?

Let's face it, the Texans were not supposed to win this game. They were 9.5-point dogs. But when you get out to a 24-0 lead, you start to believe and a trip to the AFC title game would have been unprecedented. Playing a familiar foe in Tennessee might have even meant a first-ever trip to the Super Bowl. But that's what the Texans are. Left to dream. They will have all off-season to ask those questions.

The truth is, the Chiefs were the better team. Better players. Better coaches. Sunday was on defensive coordinator Crennel more than anyone. His team not only could not stop the Chiefs, they gave up huge play after huge play. It was like watching LSU play McNeese State.

The Texans needed to play a perfect game to win. It started off that way. But they could not sustain it.

What's next?

Instead, they start looking to next year. How can they improve with no real draft picks? How can they fix the defensive issues? How many years does J.J. Watt have left? Does Bill O'Brien make staff changes? Are they really close to being a Super Bowl contender? How can they fix the pass rush? The secondary? Is it time for Crennel to ride off into the sunset after another year of horrible defense?

For a brief while, it felt like it could have been so much different. But then the Chiefs woke up. And so did the Texans, unfortunately.

It was a tough way to end a season that at times showed promise, and at times looked hopeless. The first quarter was the former. The second was the latter. The second half was a victory lap for the Chiefs.

And the Texans season died, right where it was expected to, in the second round of the playoffs.

Turns out hoping for anything more was just a dream, one that was all too brief.

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The Texans showed the fans they care on Monday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Whatever words you want to use - “dismissed,” “fired,” “parted ways,” “resigned” — ding dong, Jack Easterby is gone as executive vice president of football operations for the Houston Texans.

A collective sigh of fans’ relief spread across Houston when intrepid ESPN reporter Adam Schefter broke the story of the controversial and roundly despised Easterby’s departure early on Monday, October 17. Relief followed by good riddance and what took the Texans so long?

Easterby joined the Texans in 2019 and quickly gained power through his friendship with team owner Cal McNair. Easterby was roundly criticized for weaving religious fervor in his role as head of football operations. According to the Texans website, Easterby was “responsible for the vision and oversight” of the team.

Let’s review: during Easterby’s tenure, the Texans went 9-29 on the field, the team’s star quarterback went on a rampage of sexual misconduct with 20, or 22, make that 24 female masseuses (and counting), traded perhaps the most talented receiver in the NFL for a broken down running back and a handful of magic beans, hired and fired coaches to where the Texans currently are paying three different head coaches, and watched fans abandoned going to games.

Only a few years ago, the Texans had a waiting list in the tens of thousands for season tickets. Now the stadium is half-empty and seats can be had for pocket change on secondary ticket sites. The Texans are 1-3-1 this season, in last place in the AFC South.

For years, Houston sports talk hosts and writers pleaded for the team to unload Easterby. That could be one reason that Easterby lasted as long as he did. NFL owners ain’t about to let the media dictate how they run their teams.

Today, we’re hearing comments like “there’ll be rejoicing throughout the organization” and “a pox on the team is gone.”

My football buddy Ed said, “you can’t call him a cancer on the team because cancer kills you, the team is still around. He was more like an STD that lingered.” (Don’t scratch, that only makes it worse.)

Easterby avoided the media like a biblical plague. In the few glimpses we got of him, he came off like, as Jimmy Buffett would describe, a conniving “television preacher with bad hair and dimples,” the only difference being Easterby had no hair.

A Sports Illustrated exposé on Easterby revealed that he brought a “culture of mistrust and constant chaos among staff and players,” arranged for illegal team practices and flouted safety rules during COVID, and reportedly hired private eyes to follow players during their off-hours.

Easterby, 39, started as an academic tutor at the University of South Carolina, then an entry-level intern with the Jacksonville Jaguars, became team chaplain for the New England Patriots, then character coach, before his meteoric and totally baffling rise to head of football operations with the Texans.

The S.I. piece pinned Easterby with backstabbing other executives and decision-makers, breaking NFL rules, pushing the trade of Hopkins, and generally leaving the Texans organization a $4.7 billion dumpster fire.

The Texans released this statement on Monday afternoon from McNair:

“I met with Executive Vice President of Football Operations Jack Easterby and we have mutually agreed to part ways. For the remainder of the season, effective immediately, his responsibilities will be absorbed by our Football Operations staff. We acknowledge Jack's positive contributions and wish him and his family the best in the future.”

As fans are gleefully and sarcastically note on talk radio and online discussion boards: “He won’t be missed.”

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