4th and a mile with Paul Muth

Here's what to expect at a socially distanced Texans game

Things look just a bit different from a typical Texans game. Photo by Paul Muth

The Houston Texans play host to the New England Patriots this Sunday in a battle to decide...nothing.

The Patriots are bad. The Texans are bad. The only thing this game offers in utility is something to nap through while nursing a Saturday night hangover.

If ever there was a season to avoid watching or going to a Texans game, this would be it.

Also 2013.

Also 2005.

The only reason this season could be worse is that it is being played in the middle of a pandemic. To be fair though, their on field performance warrants even less fan attendance than the current 13,000 allowed.

In spite of their current Masterclass season of ineptitude, curiosity got the better of me a few weeks back. I had to see what a socially distanced NFL game felt like. So I grabbed a ticket to the Jacksonville game and did just that.

It already felt weird before my buddy and I had even made it to the stadium. We knew something was off when we were able to pull up and park without wading through the infamous soul-crushing Texans traffic. Be it known that my super secret off property parking spot was utilized in conjunction with a quick METRORail ride up to NRG Park. There was absolutely no justification to spend money on gameday parking passes considering that tailgating was forbidden.

With tailgating out the window and stadium beer prices still ridiculous we were forced to watch an 0-4 Texans team face the Jaguars sober. Coincidentally this was also the first in-person Texans game ever that I had actually watched sober. I didn't know that was allowed.

Security checkpoint? Walk right through. Ticket scan? Breeze on by, buddy. Food and beer? Come and get it. It had shades of 2007-2016 Astros-level entrance efficiency, mainly because no one was going to those games either. You can skip and twirl with your arms outstretched throughout the concourse all the way to your seat with nary a chance to bump into other fans.

Once we were inside, though, the mask went on and stayed on. They're serious about it, too. So much so that they've deployed roving bands of mask police in red polos to patrol the concourse. Armed with a sign that says "Please wear your face mask. Thank you!" These sentinels have been deployed to root out problem makers and ruthlessly point at their sign until compliance is achieved.

We reached our section and headed down to our own personal row behind the goal post. That's right. When we purchased the seats, they were being sold in groups of four. Since we were the only two that purchased any, the other two were discarded. When we arrived I had expected to have at least two empty seats near us to stretch out as a result. Wrong.

Every seat not sold is strapped shut with steel strapping typically reserved for bailing machines. They were definitely not playing around with enforcing the distancing.

At the bottom of each row you'll find another mask monitor, back turned to the field. They will harass your section the entire game to make sure everyone complies by passive-aggressively pointing at the person and then pointing at their "Please wear a face mask. Thank you!" sign. It's merciless.

Once we settled in, I had the pleasure of listening to the man with the toughest job of all: the PA announcer trying to hype up an empty stadium.

It's "Texans tradition" during the player entrances that the PA announcer says the player's first name, and the normally packed crowd yells out the player's last name. This crowd certainly did not pull their weight.

PA: "DESHAUN"

Crowd: [incoherent mumbling]

I'm not going to bother talking about the game because it was terrible. But the game experience itself? It was weird. The timeout productions were all on the video board, the cheerleaders were sequestered into different corners of the stands on makeshift stages. Toro the mascot donned a mask. Even with the manufactured crowd noise on loop, it was uncomfortably quiet.

Then came the bombshell.

"ALL RIGHT TEXANS, IT'S TIME TO GET LOUD FOR YOUR HOUSTON TEXANS!"

"This should be great," I thought to myself.

The video board then switched to a graphic of a decibel meter, while the cameraman struggled to find a rowdy crowd big enough to zoom in on. The decibel meter read 105 dB.

I pulled up the decibel meter app on my phone to compare (don't ask why I have a decibel meter on my phone), and my heart sank.

70 dB. We were being deceived. The app equates the decibel level to similar noise levels, with 70 dB equating to "busy traffic." In lieu of "Go Texans!" or "Let's go!" during key situations, we resorted to just yelling "BUSY TRAFFIC" for the remainder of the contest. Our trust had been broken.

Final verdict?

Watching sports in person truly lacks a critical dimension without a crowd. It was uncomfortable and eerie, and the Texans just aren't good enough to merit a trip to Kirby Drive, even if you don't have to worry about lines or crowds. I did the work so you don't have to. If you simply must watch the Texans, stay home, and stay comfy.

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Houston's offense had another strong day at the plate in Seattle against the Mariners on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After striking a deal with the Mariners before Tuesday's game, along with a reported deal with the Marlins on Wednesday before the finale, the Astros continued to try and bolster their bullpen with fresh arms while also focusing on this series against Seattle. Having won the night prior to even it up, it came down to the rubber game on Wednesday afternoon to decide the series.

Final Score: Astros 11, Mariners 4

Astros' Record: 63-40, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-5)

Losing Pitcher: Yusei Kikuchi (6-6)

Astros continue to score runs in Seattle

Just like in the earlier games in this series, the Astros had no problems offensively. They strung together four consecutive one-run innings, starting in the top of the second when they loaded the bases, then got an RBI groundout by Myles Straw to go up 1-0. In the top of the third, Yuli Gurriel drove one in on a two-out RBI double, bringing in Jose Altuve, who led the inning off with a double of his own. Chas McCormick led off with a single in the fourth, then later scored on an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz.

The fourth run in as many innings came in the top of the fifth, as Gurriel would notch his second RBI with a solo homer to start that inning, pushing the lead to 4-0. They didn't stop there, and neither did Gurriel, as he would get RBI number three on the day as part of a four-run top of the sixth, with RBI hits him, Altuve, Diaz, and Carlos Correa, doubling the lead to 8-0.

Odorizzi gets to the sixth before allowing two homers

The run support gave Jake Odorizzi plenty of leeway, which he didn't need until the bottom of the sixth. He held Seattle scoreless over the first five frames, allowing just four baserunners on a hit by pitch, a walk, and two singles, all peppered over that span and erased in each inning. Kyle Seager would get the Mariners on the board in the bottom of the sixth, blasting a one-out solo homer to cut the lead to seven runs at 8-1. After a single in the next at-bat, recently traded Abraham Toro made it four games in a row with a homer, this one a two-run shot to cut the lead to 8-3 and end Odorizzi's day. His final line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 95 P.

Houston wins the series

Houston brought in Brooks Raley to finish the sixth, issuing two walks but stranding them to keep it a five-run lead. Myles Straw helped push that back to six in the top of the seventh, reaching on a single to start the innings, then stealing both second and third to get in position for Diaz's third RBI of the day, a groundout to make it 9-3. Cristian Javier was the next reliever out for the Astros, but he would not make it through the bottom of the seventh, allowing a single and three walks, the third with the bases loaded to bring in a run.

Bryan Abreu was brought in to get out of the jam, getting a strikeout to end the seventh. Then, in the top of the eighth, Kyle Tucker would put two more runs on the board with a two-run homer making the lead seven runs at 11-4. Abreu remained in for the bottom of the eighth, erasing two one-out singles to get through the frame. Brandon Bielak took over in the bottom of the ninth to close things out, posting a 1-2-3 inning to wrap up the win and give Houston the series victory.

Up Next: Houston will travel down the coast to San Fransisco before getting a day off on Thursday. They'll pick up an exciting three-game series with the Giants on Friday, with the opener slated to start at 8:45 PM Central. Framber Valdez (6-2, 2.97 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, while San Fransisco's starter is TBD.

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