I know Bill O’Brien had a taxing week managing potential mutiny from his players while walking a narrow line of loyalty to the team’s owner. And I get that the Houston Texans head coach has frequently flipped quarterbacks like a lot of NFL head coaches, aching for a franchise one.
But this coach — who Texans owner Bob McNair has on occasion been reluctant to fully embrace — is surrounded by storms and creating more on his own. He has always been tightly-wound and he just coached a game in Seattle where he froze in the end, unwilling to be bold about winning.
That is a concern for McNair, who has a few of them now.
O’Brien is in the fourth year of a five-year Texans contract. McNair said last spring about extending O’Brien: "We’ll sit down (at the end of this season) and see what he’s happy with and if he wants to be extended and see how we feel."
How they "feel"?
The owner and his management team are wondering if O’Brien is the right man with the right temperament with the proper coaching courage to lead Houston in this new DeShaun Watson era, sources within the Texans told me Monday morning.
It is a proper question. There is plenty of season left for O’Brien to more clearly answer it.
He must continue to manage a potentially volatile situation in his locker room while building Watson and this explosive Houston offense. He must adjust his coaching to reflect that the strength of this team is now offense, not defense, a complete reversal of what the Texans have been under O’Brien.
O’Brien helped manage a sticky situation when McNair’s "inmates running the prison …" comments that were revealed last week. He is 30-25 and winner of consecutive divisional titles. His team is 3-4 now.
He deserves credit for calling and designing a strong offensive plan at Seattle on Sunday, one where Watson threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns. But with 1:53 left, O’Brien froze. On third-and-four from his own 26, ahead with 1:53 left and a chance to close, O’Brien took the ball away from Watson and settled for an unimaginative, two-yard run and punt. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson then took the game with a rapid scoring drive that won it, 41-38.
Nothing rankles ownership more in this league than coaches who swipe the ball away from their best players in critical moments. Coaches who fear taking proper risks at greatness. Coaches who do not play boldly with smarts to win.
It was as if O’Brien watched an entire game where Watson ripped the Seahawks and then, in the game’s most crucial moment, did not trust what he had seen. He may have been seduced by his defense intercepting Wilson on the prior possession. Maybe he thought his defense would do it again. If so, that was a miscalculation of his own quarterback and the opposing quarterback. Russell Wilson with the balls seeking redemption in the closing seconds is not a situation you invite.
When you consider potential coaching firings that could loom, no one would be shocked if the list included John Fox in Chicago, Todd Bowles with the Jets, Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis, Ben McAdoo with the Giants, and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati.
You can add O’Brien to the list if he does not clearly turn to Watson in bold ways to finish and win games.
Patriots again prove ‘the sum of parts’ is bigger than the stars
That was a dynamic performance by the Patriots at home on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, who had won three straight games. It was a resounding Patriots demonstration of how once again they create game plans weekly to match opponents and drive the game into the way the Patriots want it played and in the way the Patriots think they can win it.
In this 21-13 victory, the Patriots entered insisting on control. Control of the clock. Control of the plays. Control of tenacious defensive pass rushers and playmakers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.
New England won in possession time 36:59 to 23:01. They won in plays 82 to 52. In fact, ahead 15-7 in the final seconds just before halftime, the Patriots had run 40 plays to the Chargers 18.
Ingram (one solo tackle) and Bosa (three solo tackles, one sack) were contained.
And the Patriots’ defense in the end thwarted San Diego’s final drive for victory.
New England is special because it keeps presenting players who are not marquee names but play that way in key moments. One of the game’s huge plays was a subtle one, a tipped pass with just under five minutes left on a third down Phillip Rivers’ toss. It forced an incomplete pass and a Chargers’ punt after the Chargers had scored a touchdown to trail, 18-13, had stopped New England’s offense on a three-and-out and had then received the ball looking for more momentum.
Third-year defensive end Trey Flowers made that tip that forced that punt. It killed the Chargers’ flow.
Few around the league know him. But he stands out in more than his strong 6’2, 265-pound frame. He talks about football intelligently and plays it with passion.
I was reminded of a visit we had in training camp last summer when he said:
"We know that our team is the sum of parts, not just star players. We know how great our quarterback (Tom Brady) is but we don’t believe he is the only factor to us winning games. It takes everyone, a team, to do something great. Sometimes it’s a play here or there from the most unlikely guy that gets you over the top."
Like his unnoticed, less celebrated, late tipped pass.
Dunlap’s big finish
Speaking of tipped passes, Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap is 6’6, 280 pounds with one of the most imposing wing spans in the NFL.
His late, tipped pass, catch of it and 16-yard return for a touchdown that sealed Cincinnati’s 24-23 victory over the Colts was not only a testament to this seventh-year player’s size but also to his awareness, guile, and athleticism.
"I wanted to make sure I looked it all the way in and finish the play," Dunlap said.
He did, better than a lot of NFL receivers managed on Sunday.