THE PALLILOG

No sports in the world leads to an empty feeling

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Let me start by noting that this column is confined to a sports context. Sports are a huge thread in our societal fiber and massive economically, but not literally life or death the way the coronavirus pandemic is for way too many. So, with that perspective established...

Man this is the worst ever start to spring. The vernal equinox hit at 10:49 PM CDT Thursday night. Never have we had less in sports with which to herald its arrival. No NCAA Tournament to revel in for the rest of the month. No Opening Day in Major League Baseball just around the corner. No Masters at Augusta approaching. No Kentucky Derby in May. No Stanley Cup or NBA Finals in June. Basically, no anything.

Our essentially sports-less existence won't last forever. But it may feel like it. From time to time l talk about a player or team with fortunate circumstances or challenging circumstances, as needing to play the course. Whatever sets up favorably, or whatever looms as seemingly insurmountable, play the course. This course stinks! The fairways are burned out, the greens are a bumpy mess, and the rough, man is it rough. Alas, like the coronavirus pandemic itself, this course will get worse before it gets better.

We've all heard if not used the saying "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Best I could find, it dates to 1832 and The Pocket Magazine of Classic and Polite Literature. It's not always true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Sometimes out of sight out of mind supersedes. With sports? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning might put it: sports, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I miss you baby.

O'Brien makes news

Thank goodness for Blundering Bill O'Brien. Emperor O's absurd trade of DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for 50 cents on the dollar gave us something to work with this week, along with NFL free agency. I do not recall a trade made with opinion more universally held that one side got fleeced. The Texans make history! The evidence mounts that O'Brien is simply overmatched and has too much authority for us to believe he will ever helm the Texans to greatness.

O'Brien is the rightful villain on this to Texans fans, but Hopkins is no hero. If Hopkins was agitating for another contract re-do, O'Brien should have told him "That's not happening two seasons into a five year 81 million dollar deal. See you at mandatory reporting date or face the consequences." Instead Emperor O nets a lame return in a deal that makes the Jadeveon Clowney trade to the Seahawks look decent.

Reminder: Over the six seasons of O'Brien's Texans tenure, three AFC South franchises have reached an AFC Championship Game. Then there are the Texans.

An Astros positive

The Astros catch one silver lining amidst the coronavirus mess. With there being no way the baseball season will start before mid-May at the absurdly optimistically earliest, Justin Verlander gets ample time to recover from his injuries. First he was shut down by a lat problem connecting to his pitching arm, then this week Verlander had surgery to repair an injured groin. The stated six weeks recovery time would have Verlander available come mid-May.

On the other hand, the Astros chance at mounting a run at becoming the first team ever to win 100 games in four consecutive seasons, basically eliminated. Though maybe it's worth noting that in 1995 when the first inning of the season (one-ninth, 18 of 162 games) was lost to the players' strike, the Indians still wound up winning 100, finishing 100-44. Hard to see the Astros having that in them. Career milestones with lowered likelihoods of being reached if 2020 turns out to be, say, a 100 game regular season: 300 wins for Verlander and 3000 hits for Jose Altuve.

Relatively speaking, Red Sox fans might not lament the delay to season start. First they trade away superstar Mookie Betts, and now pitching ace Chris Sale is gone until some time in 2021 thanks to Tommy John surgery. Sale is just beginning a five year 145 million dollar contract extension that at point of signing looked shaky, and now looks like possibly one of the worst deals in MLB history. For the team that is. It's downright phenomenal for Sale. Of course, New England may barely notice while lost in "Tom Brady is gone?!?" hysteria.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Brady fell over the hill last season but should still be a vast upgrade over Jameis Winston for the Buccaneers. 2. If you have the wherewithal, you'd be doing a good thing in ordering takeout or delivery at least once this weekend in support of restaurants being flat out crushed by all this. 3. Best Houston desserts to go: Bronze-Truluck's carrot cake Silver-Bellagreen's white chocolate bread pudding Gold-Goode Company's pecan pie


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Texans fall to Browns. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans kept it closer than the experts thought they would, but couldn't pull out a victory. Here are 11 observations from the loss in Cleveland to the Browns.

1. The game looks totally different if Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor finishes the game. Taylor left at halftime with a hamstring injury. He was playing exceptionally well against his former team. Taylor is not expected to play Thursday according to NFL Network.

2. Davis Mills had a rocky NFL debut which was to be expected. Mills looked to have the wrong elements of a few plays. He also couldn't hit backup wideout Andre Roberts over the middle and threw an interception. It was a fine performance considering what Mills showed he could do in the preseason.

3. Mills didn't work with a full load of offensive weapons in the second half. Rookie wideout Nico Collins didn't return to the game after his lone catch and big run early in the game. Veteran slot receiver Danny Amendola left the game with an injury. Tight end Anthony Auclair left with an eye injury. The Texans entered the game without wide receiver Anthony Miller who was inactive.

4. Brandin Cooks is a monster through two games. He is the most dangerous skill position player on the team, and defenses still have trouble covering him and staying with him. Cooks turned in yet another impressive day for this team and hauled in a Davis Mills touchdown pass.

5. The Browns did a solid job against the ground game of the Texans. Mark Ingram averaged under three yards per carry and Tyrod Taylor was the only rusher to have a big play on the ground. This led to a fair number of third-and-long situations which the Texans usually had trouble converting.

6. Justin Reid was set to increase his payday on his next contract with his early play. Reid forced a fumble and had an interception in the first half. Unfortunately, Reid would leave the game multiple times with injuries. The knock on Reid has always been his health.

7. The Texans were worn down by the Browns rushing attack all day. Once Cleveland committed to the run they saw the success of their work culminating in a 26-yard scamper by Nick Chubb for a touchdown. The Browns didn't run as much as I excepted them to run early.

8. Tim Kelly had another nice day calling plays. Kelly remains creative in finding ways to get the ball out of Taylor's hands quickly as well as manufacturing matchups where the Texans can win and pick up yards. He even got creative to get Davis Mills a passing touchdown late in the game. Kelly has been very impressive through two games.

9. Andre Roberts was inexcusably bad today. The Texans defense held on the opening drive and his muffed punt eliminated the momentum from the defensive stand. He also had poor returns on kickoffs. His lone job is to be a solid returner, and he failed at that on Sunday.

10. David Culley had a head-scratching decision foregoing an offsides call on a third down. The head coach opted for the result of the third down, and a punt on fourth down, instead of another third down. He did not explain himself well postgame on the decision either.

11. The Texans hung tough and should feel solid about where they could have been without the injury to their quarterback. With no Taylor in the short week, it will not be easy to beat the Panthers who upset the Saints on Sunday.

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