HOUSTON – The final obstacle standing between the Houston Texans and a desired return to normalcy was cleared Monday when the franchise announced that its regular season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars would be played as originally scheduled at NRG Stadium on Sunday.
That proclamation didn’t fully distance the Texans from the damage that Hurricane Harvey did to their community. However, it enabled the team to move forward with routine preparations without the specter of a relocation or postponement of the contest, a reality that affected the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Hurricane Irma threatening South Florida.
“(Texans President) Jamey Rootes spoke with (Houston) Mayor (Sylvester) Turner and (Harris County) Judge (Ed) Emmett — obviously, Bob McNair involved with that — and everyone agrees that our game will not take resources away from other parts of the city and that this game will be an opportunity to continue to bring us all together as Houstonians and as Texans,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said.
Winning their opener would help advance the Texans’ goal of mending their community, but like the Jaguars, Houston opens the season with a curious situation at its most crucial position.
Despite maneuvering in the draft to select Deshaun Watson 12th overall, and then watching the quarterback flash in the preseason some of the considerable talent that enabled him to lead Clemson to the national championship last season, the Texans remain staunchly committed to fourth-year pro Tom Savage, an unheralded career backup, as their starter.
Savage, 27, has just two starts under his belt, both coming last season when starter Brock Osweiler proved too ineffective to maintain the charade of his reliability and trust. Savage has played in five career games and attempted only 92 passes, and for a franchise seeking a third consecutive AFC South title, hitching its wagon to Savage qualifies as an interesting decision.
O’Brien remains adamant that Savage is the best option at quarterback based on his familiarity of the offense and, true to their organizational personality, his players have echoed that sentiment. While there might be a sense of inevitability that Watson will someday supplant Savage, a change won’t come anytime soon barring the unforeseen. Savage has ample support.
“I expect him to continue where he left off this preseason,” Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who sat out the preseason with a thumb injury but has been cleared to start the opener.
“I’m not big on stats and numbers, but I did see where he was top percentage QB, or something like that. So, I expect him to continue that.
“I think he can be real good. He knows this offense like the back of his hand. He knows the players in this locker room very well, better than everybody. He’s been here. So, I think he can be real good.”
While the Jaguars, given their string of six consecutive losing seasons, possess more modest expectations, there was cause for offseason enthusiasm following the performance of their defense (which ranked sixth in yards allowed in 2016) and additions of running back Leonard Fournette, left tackle Cam Robinson, and receiver Dede Westbrook via the draft.
Where Jacksonville failed to improve was at quarterback, with Blake Bortles continuing to deliver inconsistent and maddening performances. He was fourth in the NFL with 16 interceptions last season, failed to complete 60 percent of his attempts for a third consecutive year, and posted declines in touchdown percentage and passer rating from 2015.
Considering the burgeoning potential of the defense and the accumulation of young talent offensively, Jacksonville appears only to need solid quarterback play to make the leap. Bortles didn’t showcase that improvement in the preseason and, to exacerbate matters, veteran Chad Henne failed to surpass Bortles on the depth chart when presented the opportunity to do so.
Bortles remains entrenched, aware of the chorus supporting his demotion yet focused on blocking out that noise in order to help the Jaguars snap a six-game skid against the Texans.
“I’d rather not think about it,” said Bortles, who was a full participant at practice Wednesday despite a minor right wrist injury.
“Maybe someday at the end of my career whenever that is, hopefully a long time from now, there’ll be time to look back on it and think about how that stuff shaped me. But as of now it’s focus on how we can beat the Texans and how can I help us be as efficient as possible.”