Few would argue that one of the worst seasons for the team was the ill-fated 2005 season. In the three previous seasons, the squad showed gradual improvement in their win totals, going from 4 to 5 to 7. Based on the 2004 season, there were signs of optimism. The Texans offered their version of the triplets with Carr/Davis-Williams/Johnson. Additionally, they boasted an adequate defense with some talent (Dunta Robinson with 6 INTs in his rookie year). It was not without reason that Houston fans could hope that 2005 would be a winning season.
Unfortunately, any dreams for a breakthrough died quickly. The team struggled badly out of the gate, going into a very early Week 3 bye at 0-2, outscored by an average of 25 to 7 and in dire enough straits to fire offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and replace him with offensive line coach Joe Pendry. This did not yield much in the way of improvement. The squad started the year 0-6 and was 1-11 at one point. The offense and defense spent most of the season ranked near dead last in all major categories. When the team limped home after an overtime loss to San Francisco to close out the year, the Capers/Casserly era came to an inglorious end and Bob McNair brought in Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith to try to restart the quest for pro football glory in Houston.
What happened to 2005 and how could have it been different? Setting aside the idea that the team could have just played better, was the optimism coming out of the 2004 season warranted? In one respect, yes, the team showed improvement over three seasons and players like David Carr and Domanick Davis-Williams did have their best seasons to date. However, some of the key Texans defenders were aging out of effectiveness, and the younger players replacing them were not delivering (think Jason Babin). The offensive line proved inconsistent, and Carr came into his 4th season having already been sacked over 140.
Additionally, Carr’s best season in 2004 was not all that spectacular. That was the first season where he had more TDs than INTs, and that was only 16 TDs/14 INTs. There is always the issue that a quarterback can only work with what he has but it appeared that Carr was not making the team better in the way a franchise QB was expected to advance a team. While Andre Johnson was proving worth the high draft status, most of the other offensive players drafted/acquired over the previous seasons were not.
You’ll notice that personnel blunders rank high on the reasons for the failure of 2005. The disastrous trade that brought in Phillip Buchanon for the price of the Texans’ second and third round picks in the 2005 draft seemed emblematic for the teams struggles. That then Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis would willingly part with a former 1st rounder, and a cornerback (his favorite football position) should have raised some serious red flags for the team. Throw in missed opportunities to bring in a player like Orlando Pace, on top of a poor draft for the team, and the team was already behind the talent curve.
Could the absurdly early bye have been a blessing? The team got off to an awful start, especially for one expected to push for the playoffs. While on the road, Buffalo was not seen as an especially formidable team, and one that Houston, if not favored to win, should have played better. While Pittsburgh presented a more difficult challenge, the game was at home, and again, if the Texans planned to compete for glory, they needed at least a better showing. That didn’t happen. After two games, the team only had 14 total points, allowed 13 sacks, -4 in turnover differential and some of the worst quarterback play in franchise history. If ever there was a NFL unit in need of a reset, it was the 2005 Houston Texans offense.
Given the offensive putridness on the field, sacking Palmer had some logic. However, the result did not inspire any better offensive performance. The team only mustered 10 points against the Bengals (who was making a push for its first playoff appearance since 1990) and the squad would only score more than 20 points twice the rest of the season. Ultimately, the way the team stumbled, the timing of the bye, early or later, would make little difference in the fortunes of the team.
Not that the defense escapes blame here either. The marquee acquisition, Buchanon, lost his starting job during the bye week. The defense had their moments, and they could blame the ineptitude on the offense, but they ended the season surrendering the most points in the league and ranked near the bottom in most defense categories. There were few, if any, defensive players that might have kept an opposing player or coach up at night.
While the team was more competitive after the short bye in a number of games, the team started broke and stayed that way. Perhaps if the squad could have gotten off to a better start, they might have found the wherewithal to hang in some of the tighter games, as they had several where they were leading or tied in the fourth quarter. If the team somehow got through the first two games 1-1, or were very competitive, especially against the Steelers, they might have salvaged something of the season of promise. Sometimes success builds off success, but so to does failure build off failure. With the 2005 Texans, the early failures set the stage for the rest of the year.
Perhaps the primary culprit: the shortcomings of David Carr. A combination of the excessive sacks (68 more added to his previous total) and limited ability to fully grasp being an NFL quarterback turned Carr from can’t-miss prospect to another first round quarterback flop. Coming into the 2005 season, the Texans were not going to jettison Carr, but their success hinged on him taking the next step as an NFL quarterback. That he didn’t doomed the 2005 Texans and the Capers regime.
Ultimately, there are few scenarios where the 2005 Texans actually get that winning record. An alternative timeline would have to undo the myriad of personnel mis-steps of the team from 2002 and also see Carr and the Texans offensive line play at an absurdly higher level than ever previously shown. Could Carr have ever lived up to his #1 overall position? Perhaps if he had a better offensive line? It is possible. If the team drafted better personnel across the franchise, quite possibly he would have not had near as much pressure to produce. Yet, the expectations of a franchise quarterback are such that he must prove he can help a team win, not just be a part of it. He never got the squad there, and thus, the dumpster fire that was 2005. If nothing else, it brought an end to one flawed timeline and allowed a franchise reset.