HOUSTON (AP) — This was not how Houston’s season was supposed to go.
All offseason the Texans talked of taking a step forward in 2020 after winning the AFC South two years in a row. Instead everything fell apart. And now the Texans are in their bye week as one of the NFL’s worst teams with a 1-6 record in a season that has already cost coach Bill O’Brien his job.
Even worse for the Texans: A bad record won’t even bring a high draft pick after they dealt both their first- and second-round picks in 2021 to Miami for left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Things went wrong for the Texans from the start, and they limped to an 0-4 mark. Owner Cal McNair had seen enough from O’Brien, also the general manager, after that and fired him in his seventh season in Houston.
Romeo Crennel was made interim coach and the Texans finally got a win in his first game in charge. But the victory against the Jaguars didn’t lead to more success. Houston dropped the next two games, capped by an embarrassing home loss to the Packers when most fans were cheering for the road team.
Star defensive end J.J. Watt has become increasingly sullen and terse as the dismal season has progressed. Things have gotten so bad that some have speculated it might be time to trade Watt, something unthinkable entering this season.
Dealing the star would be difficult with a contract in which he’s making $15.5 million this year and $17.5 million in 2021, with a cap hit for the two years of $33 million.
The 31-year-old Watt wasn’t asked specifically about the possibility of being traded, but he was questioned about his commitment to one day helping the Texans to their first NFL title.
“My goal since I got here was to bring a championship to the city of Houston,” he said last week. “That remains my goal until the day I’m not a Houston Texan anymore.”
On Sunday, he seemed more defeated than he’d been in a decade in Houston, barely managing full sentences to discuss the loss and the state of the team. He was asked what the team can do after the bye to get on track.
“Got to get better,” he said on the postgame Zoom before glaring at the camera.
Someone then asked how he as a leader can help the players hold things together for the rest of the season.
“Show up to work and do your job,” Watt said.
Crennel is aware of Watt’s increasing frustration and anger. Crennel said he planned to discuss the situation with the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But the veteran coach knows nothing he could say to Watt will change how his star plauer is feeling.
There’s only one remedy for that.
“He will not feel better until we start winning,” Crennel said. “If we don’t win, he’s not going to feel better.”
To do that the Texans must improve in many areas. The two biggest problems are the running game and run defense. Houston ranks last in the league averaging 84.9 yards rushing a game and is 31st against the run, giving up 165.9 yards.
The team’s inability to run the ball is particularly upsetting to Houston’s fans because of what the Texans gave up for running back David Johnson. O’Brien traded three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona in March for Johnson and two draft picks.
The trade was almost universally panned. Criticism of the deal has only increased with Hopkins leading the NFL in yards receiving for the winning Cardinals and Johnson doing little to help Houston. He’s averaging 56 yards rushing a game and has yet to have a 100-yard game.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson has played well and ranks second in the NFL with 2,095 yards passing after throwing for at least 300 yards in his last four games. But Houston’s offense remains inconsistent because of the team’s inability to run, particularly in the red zone.
“We all need to do a better job, myself included, to get the running game going," offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said.
Watson is ultra-confident and has always been upbeat, even after tough losses. But even he seemed beaten down after the latest defeat, admitting this season has been hard on him.
But the 25-year-old is determined to rest and regroup this weekm then trying to help his team do something positive this year.
“We’ve got to continue to just keep fighting,” he said. “We don’t want to give up. There’s still some football to play, and who knows what can happen? Right now, we’re just trying to scratch and claw to get victories, as many victories as we can.”
He knows he’ll have to be the one to lead that fight when the Texans resume play on Nov. 8 at Jacksonville.
“I’m going to go out there and play my hardest and try to win games,” he said. “So, I expect everyone else to do the same. And I bet they will.”