HOUSTON (AP) — When the Houston Texans drafted Deshaun Watson in the first round in 2017, it seemed they finally found their franchise quarterback after years of woes at the position.
Fast forward to 2021 with Watson sitting out amid a trade request and 22 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment or assault and the Texans are back to square one.
As they enter their bye, they have the second-worst record in the league after winning just one of their first nine games — with five of their eight losses coming by 15 points or more.
It seems unlikely Watson will play another down for the Texans, but the sides remain in limbo after he wasn’t traded before last week’s deadline. Now the soonest he could be dealt is March 16, leaving the issue hanging over the team for at least the next few months.
General manager Nick Caserio was a longtime executive with the Patriots who is in his first year in Houston. He has talked often about building a winning culture through accountability and character. But the question is how the Texans can achieve that goal with the uncertainty over Watson’s future taking the focus away from anything else going on with this team?
“I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but it really hasn’t been a distraction for me, and our team has done a great job of focusing on the things that they can control as well,” Caserio said. “Quite frankly, it’s probably more of a distraction away from here. It doesn’t really affect anything we are doing on a day-to-day basis.”
Tyrod Taylor opened the season filling in for Watson and led Houston to a win over the Jaguars in the opener. But he was injured in the first half of Week 2 against Cleveland and rookie Davis Mills took over. The third-round pick looked overmatched from the start and the Texans lost to the Browns before dropping the next six games with Mills as a starter.
The Texans hoped Taylor’s return from a hamstring injury last week would help them end their skid, but instead a three-interception debacle led to a loss to Miami.
Houston’s eight-game losing streak is the team’s longest since dropping the final 14 games of the 2013 season. The Texans have had some bad teams in their short history, but this might be the worst, often not even looking competitive as the losses have piled.
The Texans won four games as an expansion team in 2002 and their worst record came when they went 2-14 in both 2005 and 2013. They’ll have an extra chance to pick up another win with the addition of a 17th game this season, but if they don’t play much better than they have, they might not be able to outdo those ’05 and ’13 teams.
Coach David Culley, who is in his first season as a head coach after decades as an NFL assistant, has remained upbeat as the losses have mounted. He lauded the players for continuing to play hard in such a disappointing season, but he knows things must improve after the break and took responsibility for Houston’s struggles.
“I’m frustrated that this team doesn’t play as consistent as we need them to play to have success and win football games,” he said. “That’s on us as coaches. We haven’t done as good a job as we need to do to do that.”
Despite Taylor’s bad performance against the Dolphins, Culley said he’s sticking with the veteran when the team resumes play. He believes last week’s game was an anomaly for the 11-year pro and said he gives Houston its best chance to win moving forward.
While it appears Taylor will be Houston’s quarterback for the rest of this season, he isn’t likely to be part of the team’s future after joining the Texans on a one-year contract this offseason. Mills also doesn’t seem to be a viable option to lead the team in years to come after his failure this season.
Perhaps the only good news for the Texans is that they seem destined to get one of the top five picks in next year’s draft, where they could find a quarterback to replace Watson. It will be a big selection for Houston after the team hasn’t had a first-round pick since 2019 after trading away their selections in the opening round in the last two years.