HOUSTON — This was supposed to be the redemption story of the country’s fourth-largest city, No. 1 melting pot and humidity capital. After being flooded by a historically devastating storm, all the disparate cultures magically bonded: the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, Selena, African-Americans from the mayor on down.
They’re joining to rebuild and fend off mosquitoes. The reclamation is led, symbolically and financially, by the indomitable J.J. Watt, three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The fundraising efforts by this charismatic athlete have inspired $30 million for the Hurricane Harvey relief effort.
Like a medieval knight in light armor, Watt charges onto the NRG field waving the Lone Star and raising a crescendo.
Which is the last we saw of him. The Watt with the most star-power on Sunday turned out to be J.J.’s brother T.J. Watt, who had two sacks and an interception as a rookie starting linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
J.J. vanished into the melee of the game and was easily circumvented, all day long, by a rookie running back, Leonard Fournette.
Watt described his play as “terrible.” It became all the more horrific when the bone of a dislocated finger burst through the skin. He had one tackle, as did his much acclaimed linemate, Jadeveon Clowney. Neither had a sack. Nor did anyone else on the Texans’ team.
The Jacksonville Jaguars beat the brains out of the Texans, almost literally it’s sad to say. The Texans lost all three of their tight ends to concussion protocol and also a wide receiver, Bruce Ellington.
It’s remarkable their quarterbacks were not concussed, considering they were sacked 10 times and hit 10 other times.
The Jaguars’ training camp was as much like a boot camp as the rules would allow, and they were clearly the better-conditioned team. Jacksonville’s 29-7 victory could not have been more authoritative.
Or debilitating. The Texans have 21 players on their injury report as they drill for a Thursday night game in Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, the Houston Astros joined the Harvey malaise. It makes you wonder if there’s reverse psychology going on. Every Texan and Astro is summoning so much passion, straining to lift a city. So there’s not enough energy – or maybe enough relaxation — for the playing field.
Over the weekend the Astros were swept out of Oakland’s decrepit Coliseum, losing four games by the combined score of 41-15. These were the A’s, losers of eight out of nine games entering the series with Houston, still runaway leader in the American West, where there are few signs of life.
The most troubling part of the Oakland debacle occurred Sunday, in the sixth inning, when Astros’ ace Dallas Keuchel walked four batters and hit another.
It was shocking — as if Paul McCartney sang five flat notes in a row.
“I just wasn’t staying through the ball and getting that late life,” Keuchel said.
That sort of explanation is frequently given by pitchers with elbow discomfort. Perhaps subconsciously, they aren’t driving their wrist sharply downward on every pitch, and too many of them drift high.
Keuchel has a pattern of denying injuries, so his stoic demeanor should not be interpreted as reassuring.
The Astros had the best record in Major League Baseball entering the All-Star break, but they’re under .500 since then. Their lineup is deeper and more talented than anybody else’s, but the pitching staff is forever rickety.
So for reliability I’ve learned over the decades to look to the Rockets to give Houston its best hope of a world title. After all, in the Olajuwon era they won two of them. A couple of other times I watched them in the NBA Finals.
The Astros, by contrast, have been in only one World Series, from which they were swept. The Texans have never reached a conference final.
I had full confidence in Les Alexander’s ownership of the Rockets, and no complaint about him making a profit of $1.4 billion during his 24 years of ownership.
But the new owner, Tilman Fertitta, has a business model that raises red flags.
Since the 1990s he has built and expanded a commercially successful restaurant empire, but it’s difficult to find a restaurant whose quality he improved. As a restaurant reviewer for the Houston Chronicle and, later, the Houston Press, I saw him repeatedly increase profit margin by chopping the budget.
My favorite restaurant in north Houston was Babin’s, which served authentic New Orleans seafood and cocktails, everything very fresh. After Fertitta took possession, the food remained good, but the hurricanes gradually descended from best in town to, arguably, second worst only to Harvey. The menu candidly notes a hurricane “mix” being used. It resembles Kool-Aid.
So what does it portend for the Rockets? Fertitta is too shrewd to commit a public relations disaster. His generosity in offering food to Harvey victims shows a charitable heart.
But true to his nature, I expect him to cut corners with the Rockets. Maybe they don’t really need to spend $2 million for a backup power forward. Or they can trim the scouting staff.
But there’s no point in fretting now over the Rockets, whose glare can never be seen in Houston until the Texans are done. Which looks more likely to be sooner than later.
Bill O’Brien, for all his bubbly optimism and bland affability, made a critical misjudgment at the quarterback position. He believed in Tom Savage, even after observing him in practice and preseasons for four years.
Instead of devoting this preseason to prepare the team’s first-round draft pick and designated Franchise Quarterback, Deshaun Watson, O’Brien continued allotting 85% of the first-string practice snaps to Savage.
In Sunday’s game, it was obvious that Watson, who started the second half, provided impetus that’s impossible from the slow-legged Savage. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey said: “Deshaun should have played the whole game. . . . He gives them a better chance, a new dynamic.”
He would have a better chance if he had more familiarity with his receivers and blockers. There was too much unintentional misdirection.
Better late than never, O’Brien needs to get behind the only quarterback who has any chance of redeeming the Texans’ season. Somehow, when he echoed his mentor Bill Belichick’s iconic refrain, “on to Cincinnati,” it didn’t sound like much of a rallying cry.