There is one NFL coach who has figured out how to stop wunderkind Houston Texans rookie Deshaun Watson.
Unfortunately, that coach is his own – Bill O’Brien.
Watson had a game for the ages Sunday in Seattle in just his sixth NFL start, becoming the first quarterback to throw for 400 yards, four touchdowns and rush for 50 yards in an NFL game.
Richard Sherman told Watson it was the best game a quarterback has played against the Seahawks defense and he noted they’ve played all the legends.
The only downer in this story is that Watson and the Texans lost 41-38 to Russell Wilson, who also threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns.
But Wilson might not have gotten a chance to lead the Seahawks on the game-winning touchdown drive if O’Brien hadn’t taken the ball out of Watson’s hands.
The Texans were leading 38-34 with two minutes left and had the ball on their own 20 when O’Brien had Watson hand off three times and the Texans punted.
It would be one thing if the Texans still had a great defense. But they’ve been wounded by injuries – notably to J.J. Watt – and the decision to let cornerback A.J. Bouye walk in free agency.
O’Brien apparently wanted to force the Seahawks to take their timeouts. But he should have at least given Watson one or two run-or-pass option plays to get a chance at a first down or two and run out the clock.
Sure, Watson is a rookie and had three picks, but the Texans are better off taking a shot with Watson than letting a top quarterback have a shot at their defense.
As it turned out, it only took Wilson three plays to mount the game-winning drive, and Watson then didn’t have enough time to pull it out.
Incredibly, this is the second time this year O’Brien has done this. In an early season game at New England, the Texans had a 4th-and-1 at the New England 18 with 2:26 left. Instead of going for it, he kicked a field goal to go up by five. And then Tom Brady drove the Patriots for the game-winning touchdown.
The only encouraging thing for the Texans is that O’Brien admitted his mistake after the Seattle game.
“It’s my fault,’’ O’Brien said. “I made some bad calls today and I just have to do a better job on game day …We have to attack. If you enter a game and you dip your toe in the water, you’re probably not going to win that game anyway. So you might as well go in there and attack. And that’s what we do. That’s my philosophy and the players’ philosophy. Just didn’t do it enough today.’’
It remains to be seen if O’Brien will attack in the future.
There’s no guarantee Watson would have won those two games. But he deserved to get the chance.
Those two losses mean the Texans are 3-4 instead of 5-2 and trail the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans, who are both 4-3.
Since they play both teams again – they lost the opener to the Jaguars, 29-7, and crushed the Titans by a 57-14 count – so they can overtake them. But if they lose the division title by one game, they will have nobody to blame but O’Brien.
He also seems to have a blind spot for quarterbacks. A year ago, he signed Brock Osweiler to a big deal, and Osweiler was so bad they dumped his salary on Cleveland and kicked in a second-round pick to get rid of him. The Browns also got rid of Osweiler, and he’s now back in Denver.
And O’Brien started Tom Savage in the opener against the Jaguars and didn’t switch to Watson until the Texans were down 19-0 at halftime. Watson should have been the starter since Day One of training camp.
O’Brien has proven he’s not a very good coach, but Watson may save his job and enable him to have a long career in Houston.
That is, if he just lets Watson play and stops taking the ball out of his hands in the final two minutes.