I never really understood the phrase "can’t win for losing" until now. With the excruciatingly painful context of an eight game losing streak by the Houston Texans (2-8), I get it now. After dropping another heart-breaker versus the Oakland Raiders, the Texans will host the only team doing worse than them so far: the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9). Depending on how you look at it, no matter what the Texans do this Sunday, they will suffer for it. Win or lose, they’ll lose, depending on whom you ask.
For some fans, losing is now the goal. A loss on Sunday would give them a tie-breaker of sorts for the possible first overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. Sounds good, right? With some enticing prospects coming out, it certainly does. But be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.
"Losing is a destructive force..."
Defensive end and ninja enthusiast Antonio Smith is no stranger to losing. He saw plenty of it on the Arizona Cardinals before making an improbable Super Bowl run in 2008, so I can respect his opinion on winning and losing. "Losing is a destructive force," he said in his unique southern drawl, and on so many levels this is true. "I've seen [losing]… turn friends into enemies, coaches and players against each other, coaches versus owners."
We saw a hint of that before the end of the game last Sunday against the Raiders. Longtime teammates Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub flung some not-so kind words at each other after a failed 4th down conversion prematurely ended a game-winning drive. Schaub and Johnson have since downplayed it, but this was an unprecedented display from two very low-key personalities.
Smith missed one, though. The dynamic between fans and players when the losses start piling up was on full display this week. Running back Ben Tate called some Houston fans "wishy-washy." Owen Daniels, who’s sitting on Injured Reserve (eligible to return) wants "smart fans" at the stadium. He complained that there’s too much noise at Reliant Stadium while the offense is on the field. Both players backed off their statements somewhat, but many fans were none too happy about it and freely expressed their displeasure with the two via Twitter.
How about between coach and general manager? According to reports, there's a growing divide between Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith. Kubiak is almost certainly out the door, but can Smith avoid the ire of owner Bob McNair? Would losing Smith be worth completely tanking a season?
Déjà vu all over again
Losing is a destructive force. For Andre Johnson, it’s all too familiar.
Back in 2012, Johnson talked about the young franchise’s initial struggles. He suffered through a 2-14 season in 2005 and saw a whole management regime replaced as a result, and he didn't take it very well.
"There were times when I didn’t want to get up and come to work," Johnson said in 2012. "It’s hard because you’re working your butt off and you just can’t get the job done. That’s the biggest thing I tell the guys. You don’t ever want to experience that because it’s not a good feeling."
Now Johnson is reacquainting himself with that feeling eight seasons later, and he doesn't seem too happy about it. When asked recently how happy he was being a part of the Texans, Johnson stated flatly, "I’m under contract." For three more years, to be precise. So why is this important? Because what Johnson went through in 2005 is what one Justin James Watt is going through right now.
Hope and cheer for a win
"Whatever is beyond frustrated, that’s where I’m at."
Those are Watt’s words after the loss against the Raiders, and they likely echo what we’re all feeling as fans. The difference is that Watt isn't consoling himself with at least we’ll have a good draft slot! Neither was Andre Johnson back in '05. Like any professional athlete worth his weight in jockstraps, Watt is a competitor and wants to win. You know what else Johnson said in that 2012 interview?
"I wouldn’t say that there was a time when I said, ‘Get me out of here,’ but had I thought about it? Yeah. I knew there would be tough times coming to a new franchise," he said amidst a 12-4 regular season, "but you had a chance to be part of something special."
That something special is what convinced Johnson to extend his contract with the team multiple times all the way up to 2016. He also gave the organization some leeway for being "new." Fans rooting for a loss this Sunday better hope that Watt sees something special in this team when contract negotiations come around, because this franchise certainly isn’t new anymore.
But what about the draft?
As the team sinks to the bottom of the standings, fans clutch to the NFL Draft like flotsam, trying to keep their head above water, looking for silver linings in the clouds. I get it. I’m of the belief that the draft will work itself out regardless of where the team chooses. There are so many holes on the roster right now that it would be hard for the team to mess up. Securing that top pick is overrated.
Flash back again to the aftermath of that fateful 2005 season. With Vince Young and Reggie Bush on the board, the Houston Texans instead chose Mario Williams with the first overall pick in 2006. Imagine how excited the Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints were to be able to take one of these "surefire" prospects in Young and Bush? How did that work out for them? The Texans would have chosen Mario Williams anyway if they had been 2nd or 3rd.
On the other hand, the 2007 draft featured the Texans at 10th overall. With future all-pros Darrelle Revis and Patrick Willis on the board, the team took noted bust Amobi Okoye. There are no guarantees, no matter where you pick. Players like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III come around once in a generation. Even they aren't surefire bets.
Final example...in 2010, the Texans cost themselves about three or four draft spots by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars in the final game of the season. They had lost 8 of their last 9 games before that. Fans looked on with agony as Patrick Peterson, Von Miller and others were plucked away before the Texans could draft anyone at the 11th spot. Lo and behold, the team ended up with J.J. Watt. Imagine what might have been if the Texans had actually beaten the Jaguars!
Like I said, for good or bad, the draft will work itself out. Let’s stop worrying about next
April May and start worrying about this Sunday. Losing to the Raiders is bad enough, but the Jaguars? Come on.
Am I alone on this? Let me know either way in the comments.