Texans-Vikings: 4 Winners, 71,688 Losers

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Photo by Groovehouse
Check out our slideshow of the last Texans home game for the regular season.

There were 71,688 (mostly) Texan fans in Reliant Stadium on Sunday. It's been a while since they've trudged back out to the Blue Lot feeling like they did on Sunday after the Minnesota Vikings' methodical 23-6 dismantling of the home team. The Packers game earlier this year while unacceptable was understandable, getting snowed under by a good team with a chip on its shoulder.

But Sunday was a sound beating by an average team starting an up-until-yesterday shaky second year quarterback. The game was oddly reminiscent of the 2009 season opener against the Jets (Mark Sanchez' debut!), a 24-7 pounding and the last time the Texans had an offensive output as low as Sunday's 187 yards. That game was a through ass kicking, as was yesterday's.

No explosive plays over 20 yards. Arian Foster had 15 yards on 10 carries. The Texans were 1 of 11 on third down conversions. Matt Schaub was so bad that some of us on Twitter started thinking up snarky nicknames for him like "Matt Schaubbert" or "Matt Scholb."

With the playoffs two weeks away, it was all very scary.

Let's get to a quick Christmas Eve version of "4 Winners, 4 Losers":

WINNERS

4. Christian Ponder
Ponder had a pretty damn good week. On Monday, Ponder married his sweetheart of the last three months, the lovely and talented ESPN sideline reporter extraordinaire Samantha Steele. On Sunday, he kept his team alive in the NFC playoff race by crushing the souls of the number one seed in the AFC on their home field. All he needs to do now is go on The Price is Right and win both showcases on the Showcase Showdown on his off day this Tuesday and he'll have hit the trifecta!

3. Glover Quin
Back in my freshman year of high school, I was in an honors English class with a reputedly, ridiculously difficult teacher (Miss Stefurak). The first test of the year was always insanely hard, largely to set a tone that the class was no joke. I got a 37 on that first test, and it was the high grade in the class. A thirty-fucking-seven, and that was the best?!? It was the most hollow "high grade in the class" I've ever felt. I mean, everyone sucked but I was the best at just not sucking worse. Fast forward to yesterday after the game. On my way home, I heard Glover Quin on the post game show. He was named Texans player of the game (10 tackles, 3 tackles for loss) and received an I.W.Marks gift card. In accepting the gift card, Quin's voice had a decided "high score on Miss Stefurak's test" tinge to it.

2. J.J. Watt
With the Vikings leading 16-3, I turned to my 13 year old son Sammy and said "We need a turnover here." Literally, the very next play, J.J. Watt forces the Ponder fumble at midfield and Bradie James fell on it. It was a Festivus miracle!! Of course, the Texans offense did nothing with the opportunity, a recurring theme throughout the day, but...well...J.J. WATT!!!

1. The Broncos and Patriots
I'll lay out the AFC playoff picture in a post later this week, but suffice it to say the Texans have made life much harder on themselves. Now, instead of a week of rest this Sunday for the key players (and one less week of exposure to injury) the Texans have to go to a stadium in which they've never won (Lucas Oil Stadium) to accomplish something they've never done before (go 6-0 in the division). Meanwhile, the Broncos and Patriots both have home games in which they're double digit favorites. The Texans playoff window looks like this:

Best Case: Week 1: BYE, Week 2: Balt/Ind/Cincy at home, Week 3: AFC Title game at home

Worst Case: Week 1: Cincy at home, Week 2: at New England, Week 3: at Denver

So, this Indy game? Yeah. Kind of important.

LOSERS

4. Matt Schaub
About a year or so ago, ESPN came up with a new way to try and statistically measure quarterback play. Forever, NFL fans and statheads measured quarterback via a passer rating formula based simply on four metrics -- completion percentage, touchdown passes, interceptions, and yards. ESPN's new metric (creatively named "QBR") incorpprates all those things but also adds in components to account for rushing yards, and more importantly, situational success (i.e. red zone, third down, late game). Perhaps no quarterback matchup better validates ESPN's stat than Ponder v. Schaub.

On the "old school passer rating" surface, their two days look very similar:

Ponder: 16-30, 174 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 81.8 rating
Schaub: 18-32, 178 yards, 0 TD. 0 INT, 72.1 rating

You look at these stats and you think that, yeah maybe Ponder's team won, but probably in a close, low scoring game. Now add in Ponder's rushing yards (7 for 48 yards, including a back breaking 29 yarder on a 3rd and long at midfield), his red zone success (2 of 4), and his third down proficiency (9 of 18), and you can see why his 78.5 QBR crushes Schaub's 46.2.

And by the way, all you needed was a working set of eyeballs to see which quarterback was better. It wasn't even close. Ponder was poised, elusive, and opportunistic. Schaub was jittery and indecisive, a "throw it underneath for four yards on 3rd and 10, peeing down his leg" mess. It's games like this one that make the "Texans would have gone to the Super Bowl if Schaub were healthy in the 2011 playoffs" crowd sound myopic. Yes, both lines were better last season for Houston. But Schaub is Schaub. In truly important situations against good (or in yesterday's case, average) teams, there's a great chance he will leave you feeling unsatisfied.

3. The Reliant Stadium D.J.
Hey, music guy at Reliant, we get it that you're probably contractually obligated to play that ridiculous Clay Walker song after all Texans scores, but if you were ever going to call an audible and just leave it on PAUSE, a 33 yard field goal after the Texans had first and goal inside the one yard line in a game they're still losing by double digits is probably that time.

2. Kubiak's IHOP menu
Speaking of that first and goal series, needing about a foot of real estate to make it a one score game, Kubiak ran bootleg pass on first down, Ben Tate up the middle on second down, and then a 15 yard sack on third down. To be fair, his best red zone back was in the locker room with an irregular heartbeat, but still. Two passes? And Schaub taking the sack on third down was brutal, and should have resulted in another five points lopped off his QBR. Also, with the Texans down 16-6 facing 4th and inches at their own ten yard line with about 11 minutes to go, man...I mean yeah, I expect Gary Kubiak to wind up in a sex tape before he goes for it in that situation, but you really have to think about it there. By the way, the Vikings took the ball back and marched in for the exclamation point touchdown with a six minute drive.

1. Replacement refs
Unlikely as it may be, if the Packers (at Minnesota) and 49ers (vs Arizona) lose this weekend and Seattle (vs St. Louis) wins, nto only would the Seahawks win the NFC West, but they'd get a first round bye over the Packers based on their head to head win back in Week 5. Remember that one?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, keep hope alive!

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.


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