NFL Nation: Gary Kubiak

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- If you couldn't guess by Jacoby Jones' "I Love Bmore" hat that he wanted to stay with the Ravens, the electric Pro Bowl returner proved it by abruptly ending his visit with the New York Giants on Wednesday and taking less money to remain in Baltimore.

"I'm in the [Giants] facility walking around and I think I came to my senses really that this is probably the only place that will let me be myself," Jones said Thursday.

Jones
Jones was getting in a car to go to downtown New York for a dinner with the Giants before he officially pulled a reverse.

"I told the driver, head toward Newark. Take me to the airport," Jones said. "I told my agent that I knew I was coming home."

Jones signed a four-year, $12 million deal that includes $4.5 million guaranteed. How much less was the Ravens' offer compared the one from the Giants?

"I don't know," Jones said with a smile. "I'm not good at math."

One incentive to stay was the addition of Gary Kubiak as the Ravens' offensive coordinator. Kubiak was Jones' head coach for five seasons (2007-11) when both were with the Houston Texans.

Jones referred to Kubiak as his "biological father" because he never knew his own father. He remembered a conversation during his time in Houston when Kubiak sat him down after he was a self-described "knucklehead."

"He told me when you slow down and mature, you're going to have a chance to make a lot of money," Jones said.

Jones was cut by the Texans in May 2012 after he mishandled a punt that led to Houston's playoff loss at Baltimore. He joined the Ravens and redefined himself as one of the top playmakers in the league.

In two seasons, Jones has scored 10 touchdowns in 28 games. Since 2012, his 29.8-yard kickoff return average ranks third in the NFL and his four returns for touchdowns (three kickoff and one punt) is tied for the most in the league over that span.

Coach John Harbaugh insisted that the Ravens brought back Jones to be more than a returner, even though he has caught 67 passes in two seasons in Baltimore.

"He's also a quality receiver," Harbaugh said. "He's a special-teams player, but he's also a guy that can do the things that you need to do to move the chains when you need to move them. It's something that he's probably grown into over the last three or four years as a football player. Without question, we believe his best football is in front of him."

Trending up: Houston Texans

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When I listed the Houston Texans as trending up in my season-in-review, it produced the following response from one of my esteemed colleagues: "That might be the most ridiculous thing you've ever written." Debatable, given that I once did a post entirely about 90s rap that focused on one-hit wonders such as Vanilla Ice. But I invited the opportunity to explain myself.

After all, the rest of my review of 2013 was decidedly negative. The Texans didn't meet anyone's expectations -- least of all their own -- last season as they hurdled through a nonstop carousel of problems. They finished with the worst record in the NFL and suffered a franchise record 14-game losing streak.

Despite all that, this team is trending up. They made a big change in replacing former coach Gary Kubiak with Bill O'Brien, and his changes have already started taking effect. Absent psychic ability (in which case, please call me) none of us knows how the O'Brien era will go on the field, but the opportunity for positive change is there. Add to that the top pick in the draft, something that partially removes the luck element from that process, and Houston is well positioned for recovery.

Seven other NFL Nation reporters covering non-playoff teams listed their teams as trending up. The eight of us got together and ranked the teams from which one we most expected to make the playoffs next season to which we least expected. As you can see below, I wasn't alone in my optimism about Houston's 2014 season.

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh denied being mandated to hire Gary Kubiak as his offensive coordinator after a surprising turn of events in the team's search.

Kubiak
There has been speculation that owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome influenced Harbaugh's decision because Kubiak emerged so late in the process. The Ravens reportedly were down to two other finalists after a two-week search, and then turned their attention to Kubiak late last week.

Asked whether Bisciotti was heavy-handed in the process, Harbaugh said, "Steve is always involved. Steve’s going to be involved. This is his team, and he sets the tone and the tempo for everything we do, and I listen, as we all do, to Steve’s advice. It would be foolish not to. Now, if you’re going further than that, then the answer is ‘no, no way.’ Steve gets involved to whatever extent he feels like he can help us, and that’s what he does."

Harbaugh named four candidates for the offensive coordinator position last week: former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson (who is now with the Minnesota Vikings) and Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler.

The Ravens conducted second interviews with Shanahan, Hostler and Wilson at the end of last week. Wilson told reporters Saturday that he was eliminated from contention. There were multiple reports that Harbaugh was going to choose between Shanahan and Hostler.

So, what changed? Harbaugh acknowledged that it was those four candidates at that point because "I don’t think coach [Kubiak] and I had come to the idea that it could work."

Harbaugh added, "At the time, we talked about the four of them, then continued conversations with Gary and with Rick [Dennison], and that evolved, I would say, in the last few days -- last five or six days."

Kubiak said he didn't begin talking to Harbaugh until the last few days. It wasn't until Sunday night at the dinner table of Harbaugh's home that the sides realized it could work.

"Of course, Gary Kubiak was on the list from the beginning," Harbaugh said, "but within the last week, it became apparent that this had a chance to be a fit for both coach and for the Ravens, and we were able to finish it up this weekend.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three of the Jaguars who participated in this NFL Nation confidential survey are probably a bit disappointed today. The survey asked which NFL coach other than their own they’d most like to play for .

Their choice is unemployed.

Those three players picked Gary Kubiak, who at the time of the survey was still the Houston Texans' coach. He was fired on Dec. 6, one day after the Jaguars beat the Texans for the second time in 2013.

Kubiak received the most votes of any coach among the 10 players surveyed. Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin was the only other coach to receive multiple votes. He was named twice. San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh, St. Louis’ Jeff Fisher, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, and New England’s Bill Belichick each got one vote.

It’s understandable why Kubiak received more votes than anyone else. He coached a division rival so the players are familiar with him. Several players also are friends with Texans fullback Greg Jones, who spent the first nine season of his career with the Jaguars before signing with Houston as a free agent last March.

Carroll was the coach most named by the 320 players who participated in the survey. He got 72 votes. Tomlin received 44.
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens announced Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator Monday, they also named Rick Dennison as the quarterbacks coach. Make no mistake: Getting Joe Flacco back on track is Kubiak's project.

The Ravens can talk about having a rough and tough philosophy on offense. They can preach about the importance of the running game. How Kubiak will be measured as an offensive coordinator is his impact on Flacco.

It was 11 months ago when the Ravens invested $52 million in guaranteed money in Flacco. Every move this offseason, beginning with the hiring of the offensive coordinator, has to be made with the focus of making Flacco better. If the Ravens want to get back to the Super Bowl, they need the deep-ball-throwing Flacco from January 2013 and not the interception-prone Flacco from last season.

"You definitely build your offense around your quarterback," coach John Harbaugh said. "It starts with Joe, and those are conversations that we've had going forward. So, we are going to do whatever we can to make Joe the best player he can be, and Joe is fired up about that."

This is why it's dumbfounding that it took the Ravens two weeks to complete their search. It should've taken two days. When the Ravens started look for their next play-caller, there were two candidates that stood out from the rest: Kubiak and Norv Turner. And, if the Browns weren't going to give the Ravens permission to speak to Turner, the no-brainer choice was Kubiak.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Nick WassJoe Flacco passed for 3,912 yards with 19 TDs and a career-worst 22 interceptions in 2013.
Why? Just look at his track record with quarterbacks:

In 2000, Brian Griese led the NFL with a 102.9 passer rating.

In 2004, Jake Plummer ranked fourth in the league with 4,089 yards passing, one more than Brett Favre.

In 2009, Matt Schaub led the NFL in passing with 4,770 yards.

Three mediocre quarterbacks, three unbelievable results. Flacco has a better tool set than all of those quarterbacks, and even the harshest critic would agree with that. It had to cross the Ravens' mind that, if Kubiak can work this magic with an average-at-best quarterback like Schaub, imagine how much of a positive influence he can have on Flacco.

It comes as no surprise that Kubiak had already chatted with Flacco before his introductory news conference began. Their relationship will go a long ways in turning around the NFL's 29th-ranked offense.

"It's our job to find the things that Joe is comfortable with and to make him as successful as we possibly can. And we'll do that," Kubiak said. "I'm just looking forward to sitting down with Joe and really picking his brain in a lot of ways and [seeing] how he has been taught and what he's done in the past. He's a championship quarterback, and that's all you can ask for as a coach in this league."

This is just the start to the offense's reclamation project. The Ravens need to find another wide receiver. They have to find a way to either keep Dennis Pitta or bring in another pass-catching tight end. They have to bring back Eugene Monroe or get someone else just as reliable to protect Flacco's blind side.

In the end, it comes down to Flacco. The Ravens were Super Bowl champions when he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs. Baltimore was an 8-8 team when he had 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

This is why the Ravens needed Kubiak. The Ravens and Flacco are in a much better spot today than they were when the season ended, just based on Kubiak's history with elevating a quarterback's play.

"Joe and I need to sit down together, and I need to talk to him about how he feels with what he’s done up to this point -- how he feels about the future and what he thinks he needs to do better," Kubiak said. "I need to take my vision of that and study Joe over the course of the [next few weeks] -- starting here very early [Tuesday] morning. And together, we come up with that plan -- how we make him better, how we progress as a player."
All signs point to the Baltimore Ravens naming Gary Kubiak their offensive coordinator as well as adding Kyle Shanahan and Rick Dennison to the staff. What does this all mean? Let's take a look.

When did Kubiak become a candidate?

Judging by how the search unfolded, it looks like Kubiak became a viable option late in the process. Coach John Harbaugh named four candidates last week to the team's official website, and Kubiak wasn't mentioned. The interest in Kubiak gives the impression that the Ravens had a change of plans after second interviews with Shanahan and Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson. Kubiak should've been near the top of the Ravens' list when the search began. But he's still getting paid by the Houston Texans and he reportedly turned down the Cleveland Browns when they looked at him as coordinator. So, the Ravens must have made it worth his while to peak his interest.

How will the offensive staff look?

It's all speculation at this point. The most logical move is Shanahan becoming the quarterbacks coach. He served in that role in Houston in 2007. What will be interesting is to see how Dennison fits. Before Dennison was the Texans' offensive coordinator for the past three years, his background was the offensive line. But Harbaugh has already named Juan Castillo as his offensive line coach. How Harbaugh defines Dennison's responsibilities will be more important than his title. The only other opening on the offensive staff right now is running backs coach, and I don't envision Harbaugh putting Dennison at this spot with no prior experience at this position. It's unknown whether there will be further shakeup. The other offensive coaches on staff -- wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, tight ends coach Wade Harman and former offensive line coach Andy Moeller -- have all been with Harbaugh since he came to Baltimore in 2008.

Are there too many "cooks in the kitchen?"

This was asked by Scott Graham, one of my Twitter followers. I can understand the question because you don't want too many voices in Joe Flacco's ear. This was a problem years ago when Brian Billick, Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel all had their own opinions on the direction of the offense. But Kubiak has a history with Dennison and Shanahan. Dennison has worked under Kubiak for 11 years, and Shanahan has been on his staff for four years. They know how to put a game plan together, and it showed in the results with the offenses in Denver and Houston. In the end, it's better to bring in three coaches with a proven track record than simply promote within just to keep cohesion.
A few days ago a reader posed this question to me:

It's a reasonable thing to ask, and I promised an answer in a blog post. (As an aside, I'll do this more frequently during the offseason. Thoughtful questions that require more than 140-character responses might get posts.)

When Texans owner Bob McNair fired former head coach Gary Kubiak, part of his decision was influenced by Kubiak's seeming indecision with his quarterbacks.

The night before being fired, Kubiak had pulled Keenum from the Texans' loss in Jacksonville to try and win with Matt Schaub. It was the second time Kubiak had pulled Keenum during a game after declaring the first-year player his starter. Keenum had struggled in both of those games and wasn't seeming to get better, but Kubiak's waffling only seemed to make things worse. Upon firing Kubiak, McNair declared that Wade Phillips would be interim head coach and Keenum would start the rest of the season.

"We need to find out whether Case is capable of being a starter or whether he's capable of being a backup," McNair said that day. "And the way you find that out is by playing him."

What McNair saw in the next game, before a thumb injury ended his season, was a quarterback who had trouble adjusting to pressure and who tried to use his legs to get out of trouble far too often. Sure, when his improvisation succeeded the results were impressive, but those times were the exception. It wasn't that Keenum didn't know what to do. Both he and Phillips said he did. Keenum just didn't react in the ways he knew he should. He made the wrong decision repeatedly.

Keenum
Keenum
In my post about the Texans' offensive line, I noted that Keenum averaged about 3.7 seconds from snap to sack, which is a decent amount of time. One commenter suggested that time was because Keenum bought time for himself while under pressure. The problem is, if you're buying time and then getting sacked anyway, that's not good either. It's part of why he led the NFL in yards lost per sack last season, losing an average of 10.58 yards per sack.

Maybe Keenum stopped trusting himself. Maybe with the right coaches and a competition, he'll recover and improve. Sometimes a quarterback improves later in his career, though few are given the chance for that kind of growth these days.

The problem is you don't know. He's not there yet, at the point where he has established himself as a capable starting NFL quarterback. Sure, there would be unknowns with a drafted rookie, too. But in that case, the same thing that worked for Keenum in October could go against him now. The less a quarterback has had a chance to show, the greater his potential upside.
The Miami Dolphins are not wasting any time in an effort to fill their offensive coordinator vacancy.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor and former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak are among the early candidates.

Lazor was in Miami on Wednesday interviewing with the Dolphins, Schefter reports. Lazor did wonders with Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who started the season as a backup and led Philadelphia to the playoffs and an NFC East title. Miami needs someone to work closely with starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is entering an important third season. Therefore, the interest makes sense.

Kubiak is one of the biggest names on the market for coordinators and was one of the NFL's top offensive minds during his stint with the Denver Broncos. But his up-and-down tenure as head coach with the Houston Texans came to an end this season. Kubiak most likely will get interest for several openings.

The Dolphins fired former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman on Monday. This year, Miami was 27th in total offense and 26th in scoring at 19.8 points per game.
Former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak formally interviewed with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, according to multiple media reports.

Kubiak, who was fired as the Texans head coach in December after almost eight seasons with the franchise, is the second candidate to officially interview with the club. He joins Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who interviewed Friday.

Kubiak
ESPN Insider Ed Werder reported earlier Tuesday that the Lions will interview former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak this Friday. The Lions have also have reportedly asked for permission to talk with Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the job is Whisenhunt’s to lose.

All of these candidates fit a similar profile for the Lions. They have been head coaches at some level -- all except Gruden in the NFL -- and all come from an offensive background. Other than Munchak, all have worked extensively with quarterbacks at some point in their careers.

As for Kubiak, he coached Houston from 2006 until Week 14 of this season, when he was fired by the Texans. He compiled a 61-64 record over that span, including two AFC South titles and two playoff appearances.

He also developed quarterback Matt Schaub, who made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2012 and had three seasons of more than 4,000 yards passing. Schaub completed more than 61 percent of his passes in each of his seasons with Kubiak.

Kubiak’s team plummeted this season to a 2-11 record before he was fired. He collapsed at halftime of a Nov. 3 game against Indianapolis while having a “transient ischemic attack,” or mini-stroke, on the field.

Prior to his head coaching stint with Houston, Kubiak was the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos from 1995 to 2005, working with John Elway, Brian Griese and Jake Plummer, under former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan.

He also worked for San Francisco as its quarterbacks coach in 1994 with Steve Young.

Kubiak is an intriguing candidate in some ways. His offenses with Houston were in the top half of the NFL -- often in the Top 10 -- in all but his first and last seasons with the Texans. When he was with the Broncos, his offense was also routinely in the top half of the league.

He also turned Griese into a Pro Bowler in 2000 and Plummer into a Pro Bowler in 2005.

A message left with Kubiak seeking comment about his interview was not immediately returned. Kubiak's interview was first reported by Fox 2 in Detroit.
Peyton Manning and Johnathan JosephUSA Today Sports, Icon SMIComing off an unexpected loss, will Peyton Manning's Broncos overlook Johnathan Joseph's Texans?

Quarterbacks tend to pull for each other. They know what it's like to shoulder so much of a team's fate, they understand the pressure better than outsiders could.

"I do think it’s a unique fraternity," Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Matt’s an excellent quarterback. I think he’ll be fine."

This weekend Manning and his Broncos will visit the Houston Texans for a rematch of a game played last year under very different circumstances.

Fittingly, after a season of quarterback turmoil, the Texans are returning to the man they started with at the position. Because of an injury to Case Keenum, Matt Schaub will start Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The last time Schaub started, he entered the game to boos so hearty that the Texans had to go to a silent count on some of their plays.

On the opposite sideline will be one of the best to ever play the position. Manning has played against the Texans 19 times and lost only three times. ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: Manning is very familiar with the Texans. Has his (soon-to-be) record-setting season been as impressive to watch up close as the stats suggest?

Legwold: No question the numbers have been staggering, even by Manning’s standards. But the intersection of Manning as a 37-year-old quarterback who was willing to sort of remake himself with a team ready to offer him the place to do that has lifted his play even more. The Broncos have constructed a playbook that is a mix of what they had on hand and what Manning has always done. They've added a warp-speed no-huddle portion and given him targets all over the formation, and Manning has played with the discipline of a veteran quarterback who understands what needs to be done. His coaches have said he forced just one pass in the team’s first eight games and his accuracy has been elite for much of the season. He isn't a power thrower now, and a windy day in the postseason could derail some of what the Broncos like to do, but he is an accomplished pitcher who knows his opponents and can hit all the spots.

Gary Kubiak is still well-liked around the Broncos’ complex, with many people who worked with him still in the building. What has been the reaction of players to his dismissal?

Ganguli: Kubiak was well-liked in the Texans' building, too, especially with, but not limited to, the players. After his dismissal, you heard a lot about how well he treated people, regardless of their role on the team. He’s always been known as a players’ coach, and that’s part of what has made Houston an attractive destination for free agents. Several players exchanged text messages with him after it happened. Some took public responsibility for it. They didn't like seeing him lose his job, but the firing wasn't a tremendous surprise given how the season had gone. The players’ reaction to Kubiak's health scare after suffering a "mini-stroke" on Nov. 3 said a lot about what he meant to them.

You covered another head coach's health scare this season. How did the Broncos weather John Fox’s absence?

Legwold: There have been seasons over the past decade or so when neither the locker room nor the coaching staff would have been as equipped as this year's group was to deal with something like Fox’s four-week absence following open-heart surgery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio stepped in as interim coach, and players often spoke of his composure and leadership during that time. Manning, Wesley Woodyard, Champ Bailey and others helped keep everyone in the locker room pointed in the right direction, while Adam Gase and rest of the offensive staff kept things humming on that side of the ball. The team went 3-1 in that stretch, with two wins over Kansas City and one against San Diego. The loss was an overtime defeat at New England, when the Broncos let a 24-point halftime lead get away. Through it all, the Broncos showed themselves to be a stable organization, able to overcome the most serious of issues.

An awful lot of folks believed when the season began that the Texans would be in the hunt for the Super Bowl title. What are some of the major issues that have prevented that from happening?

Ganguli: How much time do you have? It starts with the quarterback. The Texans don’t have the luxury the Broncos have of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Their situation at the position has been tenuous all season. Schaub’s costly turnovers early on put the Texans in a precarious position. He didn't play as poorly as some indicate until Week 5 against San Francisco. He just looked uncomfortable and out of sorts from start to finish, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six on the first pass of the game. Schaub’s foot and ankle injuries the following week opened the door for Kubiak to make a switch to Keenum, who spent last season on the Texans’ practice squad. Keenum did well before opponents deciphered him, and since then he has struggled. I’m not ready to say he’ll never be a passable quarterback in the NFL, but his play over the past eight games has been a big factor in the losses. To be clear, quarterback is not the only factor in the Texans’ 12-game losing streak, but it’s been a big one. Further, the handling of the quarterback situation played a part in Kubiak’s firing. He benched Keenum for Schaub against Oakland and Jacksonville. That kind of uncertainty didn’t help matters.

That’s one question I get asked a lot. Another is this: Who will the Texans’ next head coach be? I covered Del Rio for his final season and a half as the Jaguars' coach. From what you've seen in Denver, do you think he gets another shot at being a head coach?

Legwold: I spoke with executives from around the league in recent weeks, and it seems Del Rio helped his cause with the way he conducted himself and led the Broncos during Fox’s absence. If the Broncos can snap out of their current defensive funk and go deep in the playoffs, it would help his cause even more. (He interviewed with USC during the bye week, the day before Fox suffered the dizziness and light-headedness on a golf course that led to his open-heart surgery.) Del Rio would need an owner/team president to look past the offense-first mentality everyone seems to be looking for these days, and he would have to present a clear, concise picture of what he would do on offense. But if the Broncos make the Super Bowl, or even win it, and the defense makes some plays along the way, Del Rio should be on some short lists.

How has Wade Phillips handled the interim job? He’s seen Manning plenty over the years, how do you think he’ll have the Texans go at the Broncos’ offense?

Ganguli: It wasn't a particularly good situation to come into, as tends to happen with interim jobs. The results have been similar to Kubiak's tenure, though Phillips has been more proactive in trying to curb the Texans' penalties. He's had Big 12 officials at practice several times, and puts players in timeouts if they commit a penalty. Not a lot has changed for the better, and the injury situation has gotten worse. The Texans now have their first- and second-string running backs on injured reserve, as well as their starting tight end, starting middle linebacker and starting strong safety. Phillips' defenses have always been very aggressive -- they blitz a lot. The play calling is being done by defensive-backs coach Vance Joseph now, but that doesn't change a lot. Manning's statistics against the Texans are better against a four-man rush than against blitzes.

Double Coverage: Texans at Colts

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J.J. Watt and Andrew LuckGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt's Texans aren't playoff-bound like Andrew Luck's Colts, but Sunday's hosts haven't had it easy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- This was supposed to be a game that had AFC South division title implications between a Super Bowl contender and a playoff team, one that could have even been flexed on the schedule.

At least that's the way it was envisioned when the season started.

Instead, it'll be a battle of two teams dealing with a number of issues when the Indianapolis Colts take on the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Oct. 20 and haven't had consistency on offense, defense or special teams in weeks. The Texans ... well, they've been a disaster this season. They are on an 11-game losing streak, benched their starting quarterback and fired their head coach.

ESPN.com's Colts reporter Mike Wells and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli weigh in on the two struggling teams.

Wells: Tania, obviously the big news -- really the only news -- to come out of Houston in the past week was the firing of coach Gary Kubiak. Wade Phillips takes over as the interim coach. Teams tend to rally around interim coaches or just shut them out. What do you think the Texans will do with Phillips?

Ganguli: I don't think they'll shut him out, but wanting to succeed for the coach was never a problem in Houston. They wanted to win the last Colts game for their head coach, who left at halftime in an ambulance. They wanted to win the following week in Arizona for their coach, who watched from home as he recovered from his transient ischemic attack. It's not a matter of wanting the win -- the process has gotten lost. Two weeks ago, the Texans made so much progress in fixing their issues and then last week they went to Jacksonville and completely lost their discipline, committing a franchise-record 14 penalties for 177 yards.

The Colts are now back on top of the AFC South. What was the mood like for the team upon clinching the division and a playoff spot?

Wells: It was a bittersweet feeling for them because they needed help from their good buddy Peyton Manning in Denver to win their first division title in three years. The Colts wanted to go into Cincinnati and win it by themselves so that they would be able to avoid getting it in the side or backdoor. That obviously didn't happen. But a division title is a division title no matter how you get it. That's how the Colts should look at it, especially since they were 2-14 just two years ago and many people thought the Texans wouldn't have a problem winning the division for the third straight season.

I'll be the first to say I picked the Texans to win the division this season. I'm sure there are probably a lot of reasons why they've been a major bust. But does one reason stand out more than others?

Ganguli: If I had to choose one, I would say the quarterback situation has been the biggest reason. It was completely out of the blue. A lot of people disagree with me on this, but I don't think Matt Schaub played poorly most of the time, it's just that pick-6's are such dramatic momentum swingers. Really, though, it's been a combination of a lot of things. If you look at their stats, you'd expect the team to have a much better record. After Schaub, they went through Case Keenum's learning process, which is ongoing. Kicker Randy Bullock had a rough start, which impacted the team's record. He has improved lately, but by then the Texans developed other problems, like the loss of four important players to injury: inside linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Danieal Manning, running back Arian Foster and tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels has a chance of returning this week. And of course, I mentioned the meltdown of discipline that led to what happened last Thursday in Jacksonville. That was a problem early in the season, but unusual for the Texans lately. They had four penalties in the previous two games combined.

I expected the Colts to be better than they are, too. Do you think this team has taken a step forward or backward from last season?

Wells: I thought the Colts had more talent this season but they wouldn't be able to duplicate their 11-5 record from last year. I was right about their record but wrong about their talent. Season-ending injuries forced the Colts to take a step back in the talent department. They're known for using the phrase "Next Man Up" when dealing with injuries. There really isn't a Next Man Up when it comes to replacing future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne, guard Donald Thomas and tight end Dwayne Allen. The Colts thought acquiring running back Trent Richardson would soften the blow of losing Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard. That hasn't been the case. Richardson's struggles since coming to Indianapolis have been well documented. So injuries and players not living up to expectations are the main reasons why the Colts have taken a step back

We talked about the benching of Schaub prior to the first meeting between the two teams in early November. Receiver Andre Johnson made Keenum look pretty good in the first half of that game. Has Keenum shown enough to prove he's worthy of being the team's quarterback for years to come?

Ganguli: He's had good moments and bad ones. I think the bad moments are fixable, but whether he'll be able to fix them remains to be seen. The end of this season is an audition for him just as much as it is for Phillips. He has to show he's learning how to read defenses and make better decisions. There are times when Keenum hangs on to the ball too long because his internal clock isn't quite where it needs to be yet. He is learning that sometimes it's better to take the checkdown. He's learning that turning his back on the field when a rush comes at him reduces his options. If he stops growing where he is now, he'll have a career as a serviceable backup. If he continues to improve, he has the chance to be a starter.

To wrap up, let's talk about the quarterback up there, which I know we have before. How would you assess the season Andrew Luck has had?

Wells: Two words: A struggle. But it's not Luck's fault. The offensive line has been inconsistent all season. The running game has been more poor than good. The biggest reason behind it, though, is because of the loss of Wayne. Wayne was Luck's security blanket and nobody has stepped up to help him out. Luck is good, but you can't forget that he's only in his second season and is still learning. Rookie Da'Rick Rogers had a breakout game against Cincinnati (107 yards) last weekend and believes he can be Luck's third-down go-to guy.

Andre JohnsonAP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackAndre Johnson made history with his 13-catch, 154-yard night. But he couldn't get the Texans a win.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When he caught the pass, that wasn't the end of his work. Andre Johnson kept his eyes open for the right move to make next. He caught the ball from a young, struggling quarterback, scooted several yards to his right, found a hole to run through and gained 6 yards.

It was a play made harder than it should have been, but one Johnson made the best of anyway. In that way, it parallels his career.

On Thursday night, with a 27-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Texans lost their 11th consecutive game, making it official they would miss the playoffs after winning the AFC South the past two years.

On Thursday night, Johnson became the first receiver in NFL history to have 20 or more games with at least 10 catches and 100 yards. He tied Jerry Rice with 10 games of at least 10 catches and 150 yards. Johnson's 13 catches and 154 yards led the game.

He spoke slowly, softly and deliberately when asked about it, his voice shrugging for him.

"I don’t really think about stuff like that," Johnson said. "To accomplish something that in my book the greatest probably player to ever play the game, to do something he’s done, it’s very humbling. I’m just out here working, trying to do everything I can to help the team."

By halftime, Johnson had only two catches for 14 yards out of the five passes that quarterback Case Keenum threw to him. It was in the second half that things changed for Johnson, even before the spark provided by the return of quarterback Matt Schaub.

"I didn’t do nothing different," Johnson said. "Just had more opportunities and just try to make plays when they came my way."

Keenum targeted Johnson five times in the third quarter before being benched for Schaub. Johnson caught three of those passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 40 percent of Keenum's passes for Johnson were off target.

Schaub, meanwhile, didn't throw any of his passes off target to Johnson. Johnson caught eight of the 11 passes thrown to him by Schaub and averaged 8.6 yards per attempt to Keenum's 5.6 yards per attempt on throws to Johnson.

Johnson was targeted a career-high 21 times Thursday -- the second-most targets for any player in a game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

It makes sense.

"You don’t even have to look at numbers to know that dude’s a special guy," Keenum said. "He cares a lot about this team. He puts us on his shoulders and carries us quite a bit."

Well, he tries. The Texans, who are 2-11 overall, are 1-5 this season in games in which Johnson has had at least 100 yards receiving.

It has been that kind of career for Johnson.

Eight quarterbacks have started at least one game for the Texans since Johnson was drafted. The NFL record he set Thursday speaks to his longevity. That he has done it in the face of so much change at the position getting him the ball speaks to his versatility. He makes the jobs of his quarterbacks easier.

He also has provided a model for young receivers to follow. Those who do, like last year's third-round pick DeVier Posey, who asked for his locker to be put next to Johnson's, benefit from it.

Johnson thought the lean years were behind him, like that 2-14 season in 2005 that led to a No. 1 overall draft pick. But here they are again.

Through it, even amid whispers about his diminishing ability, Johnson has produced.

"He's been a man," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Been a man all year long. Probably has a chance to have his biggest year, I don't know. But he's never changed."

Could be.

Last season, Johnson set a career mark for receiving yards in a season with 1,598. He needs 322 over the next three games to set a new personal best. Next week, he'll face the Indianapolis Colts, against whom he caught nine passes for 229 yards in the teams' first meeting this season.

Last week against the Patriots, Johnson became the second-fastest player in NFL history to catch 900 passes. Only Marvin Harrison did it faster.

None of it means as much to Johnson as a Super Bowl would have this season.

"Just frustration," he said, when asked of his emotions as the Jaguars intercepted a pass to essentially end Thursday's game. "We just want to win. I'm tired of losing."

It has all been much harder than things often are for a player of his caliber.
HOUSTON -- Right now the Texans' Gary Kubiak has a 61-62 career record as a head coach. He is in his eighth season with Houston, having been hired in 2006.

Kubiak
Team owner Bob McNair has shown patience with Kubiak, who's had two 6-10 seasons -- his first year with the team and his fifth. Until this year, when the Texans embarked on a franchise-record losing streak that currently sits at nine, Kubiak had made steady improvement after the most recent 6-10 season.

This kind of patience doesn't exist anymore. It's been nearly two decades since the last example.

Thanks to Michael Bonzagni of ESPN Stats & Info for poring through the list of longest-tenured coaches for me. Of the 87 men who have at least eight years of experience as an NFL head coach, 24 have a career record under .500 -- including Kubiak.

Among those with at least eight years experience and a losing record, Kubiak is one of four who spent that whole time with one team. The other three all returned for a ninth year.

John McKay, whose Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in his first season, only coached the Bucs to three winning seasons. He had a losing record in his eighth year and went 6-10 in 1984, his final year coaching.

Bart Starr began coaching the Green Bay Packers in 1975 and went 4-10. He only coached two winning teams, one in the strike-shortened 1982 season. That was Starr's eighth season with the Packers and his team made the playoffs. After an 8-8 record in his ninth, he was fired.

Wayne Fontes had four winning seasons with the Detroit Lions from 1988-96. One came in 1995 when the Lions went 10-6 and made the playoffs but lost. Fontes led the Lions to the NFC Championship game in 1991, but his subpar seasons meant he was constantly on the hot seat.

NFL Week 11 Sunday Studs and Duds

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
10:45
PM ET
Bad weather and blowouts. That, for the most part, is what the 11th Sunday of the 2013 NFL season brought us.

A nasty band of Midwest rain pummeled five stadiums and caused a two-hour delay at Soldier Field. The Chicago Bears' 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens started at 1 p.m. ET and finished at 6:16 p.m. ET. (It also rained in Seattle, but what else is new?)

We had seven games decided by at least 10 points, and not coincidentally in bad weather, six were won by the home team.

What follows is not a comprehensive review of Sunday's best and worst performances. It's my take on the games and plays I saw in six hours of watching (and chatting about) football.

STUDS

McGloin
1. Matt McGloin, Oakland Raiders quarterback: There have been many NFL seasons in which a Matt McGloin never would have gotten a chance to do what he did Sunday. He started for the Raiders because Terrelle Pryor was injured and his original backup, Matt Flynn, performed so poorly earlier this season he was released. Some of you might consider this faint praise, but let's pause for a moment and note that McGloin had one of the best games for an undrafted rookie quarterback in NFL history. According to the league, he was the first such passer to throw three touchdowns without an interception in the common draft era, which began in 1967. He completed only 56 percent of his passes (18-of-32), but a handful of those incompletions were very catchable balls. We'll tap the brakes for a second. I don't know that the Raiders have a quarterback controversy on their hands. But in a season when an exceptional number of backup quarterbacks have found their way to the field, it was nice to see one provide the kind of short-term relief that all reserves should aspire to.

2. Cincinnati Bengals, AFC North Division winner (?): Unless you're expecting a massive second-half run from the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's fair to wonder if Sunday gave the Bengals the distance they need to win the division. They are 7-4 now after overcoming a 93-yard, two-interception day by quarterback Andy Dalton. (Worth noting: The Bengals got one touchdown apiece from their defense and special teams.) The victory gave them a 2-game lead over the Steelers, Ravens and Cleveland Browns. It's possible that the Week 15 game in Pittsburgh will be more meaningful than it once appeared, but the Bengals are in pretty good shape. They have a bye next week and then will face only one more team, the Indianapolis Colts, that currently has a winning record.

Pierre-Paul
3. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants defensive end: At the precise moment the Green Bay Packers were threatening to make it a game at MetLife Stadium, Pierre-Paul came up with his biggest play of the season. The Packers had just regained possession after making it a one-score game early in the fourth quarter, and coach Mike McCarthy was his usual aggressive self. Pierre-Paul then did something you rarely see from a defensive end: He anticipated quarterback Scott Tolzien's pass to the flat, raised his hands and -- instead of tipping the ball or knocking it down -- simply caught it and dashed 24 yards for a touchdown. The play essentially sealed the game. Don't look now, but the Giants are no longer in the NFC East cellar. In fact, they're only one game behind in the loss column to the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles.

4. Mark Dalton, Arizona Cardinals public relations director: Dalton made the best of an unusual situation during the Cardinals' 27-14 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. As I'm sure you've seen by now, one play ended with Jaguars linebacker Jason Babin holding a handful of hair once belonging to Cardinals running back Andre Ellington. The incident prompted Dalton to reel off this line: "2013 Cardinals become 1st team in NFL history to have players lose a finger & multiple dreadlocks in same season. #leaveitallonthefield." Earlier this season, of course, Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson lost the top of his left middle finger during a game. For those curious: Dalton also confirmed that Ellington's removed hair was real, and not extensions, and tweeted a photo of its eventual return in a Ziploc bag. Well done, sir. Oh, and by the way, the Cardinals have won three consecutive games, are 6-4 and in the thick of the NFC wild-card playoff race.

5. Power of offense: My thought on the Kansas City Chiefs' championship aspirations centered around a defense that limited opponents to an average of 12.3 points during its first nine games of the season. A lights-out defense figured to give the Chiefs a pretty good chance in a playoff game against the high-scoring offenses they were likely to face. Some might view Sunday night's game in Denver as evidence that the Chiefs' defense isn't as good as we thought. I would suggest the opposite: It demonstrated the power of the Broncos' offense. They scored 27 points, a season-high against the Chiefs, while gaining 427 yards and picking up 24 first downs. It was also the first time this season that the Chiefs had not recorded at least one sack, and their only "takeaway" came on a botched exchanged between quarterback Peyton Manning and running back Montee Ball. On this night, at least, great offense bested great defense.

DUDS

1. Too-quick quarterback change, Houston Texans: The season is lost and has been for some time in Houston. The Texans were 2-7 when the day began, and whether they finish the season 2-14 or reel off a few victories and finish 6-10, they're not going to the playoffs. Whatever decision owner Bob McNair makes about the future of coach Gary Kubiak is likely to be based on what has already happened, not whether the Texans win two, three, five or eight games. So the only way to understand Kubiak's decision to pull starter Case Keenum, in a competitive situation late in the third quarter, is as a blatant and quite possibly ineffective act of self-preservation. It's true that Keenum has struggled after halftime in his brief three-start career. But that's kind of the point, right? It has been brief! What's the play when you're 2-7? Find out if your young quarterback can solve those problems? Or trot out the former starter, the one you have already given up on, in hopes of getting that elusive third victory? Kubiak picked the latter, installing Matt Schaub to little success. If you thought it wasn't possible, Kubiak deepened the muck in Houston.

2. Fake kicks, multiple offenders: I'm all for coaches making aggressive and even unconventional decisions to go for it on fourth down. And the more often we see it, the less reason I see to reach the same end via a fake punt or field goal. Sunday, we saw the Detroit Lions send holder Sam Martin off tackle after lining up for a 28-yard field goal. Martin needed 5 yards and got 3 before getting hit and fumbling. The Green Bay Packers also snapped the ball to upback M.D. Jennings, a safety, rather than punt. Jennings needed 7 yards and got 6. In these situations, if I'm going to take the fourth-down risk, I want the ball in my best players' hands. I don't want my punter trying to run while Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are on the sideline. And I don't want a safety trying to beat a defender to the line instead of Eddie Lacy. The trick has to be exceptionally innovative, and the timing wholly unexpected, to merit its use. Neither of Sunday's fakes fit that description.

3. AFC playoff race: Part of the reason the Bengals are in such good shape in the AFC North, as we noted above, is that the rest of the division is under .500. In fact, the AFC has only five winning teams and a total of nine teams with losing records. It has been seven years since a conference had no more than five teams with a winning record through Week 11, per the Elias Sports Bureau. I'm mostly in favor of playoff expansion, especially if it brings a reduction in the preseason, but I agree this isn't the best year to argue for it. If the playoffs started today, the New York Jets -- who took a 37-14 beating Sunday from the Buffalo Bills -- would be the No. 6 seed. The Jets (5-5) and Miami Dolphins (5-5) are the only .500 teams in the conference at the moment. Yuck.

4. Endgame silliness, San Francisco 49ers: Let's face it, the odds were never great that the 49ers would go to the Superdome and beat the New Orleans Saints. But they absolutely had a chance to do it, and might have pulled it off had they not made a series of late mistakes. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks was called for a hit to the neck of quarterback Drew Brees, wiping out a turnover. Running back Frank Gore dropped a short swing pass that might have gone for a touchdown. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick stepped out of bounds on a failed third-down run, giving the Saints an extra 40 seconds to work with on their final drive. And special teams ace Kassim Osgood must have missed Darren Sproles' fair-catch signal, because he hit Sproles and put the Saints 15 yards closer to the winning points. I don't think the 49ers choked up a sure victory, but they certainly gave the Saints some unneeded help along the way.

5. Misconception of NFL discipline: Contrary to popular belief, NFL teams absolutely have a way to punish players who are involved in police matters. They don't have to wait for the league to conduct an investigation and make a ruling. There is nothing in the collective bargaining agreement that prevents them from deactivating the player for one game or more. The player is still paid for the week, but prohibiting participation can still have a deterrent effect while also allowing the franchise to distance itself from the incident. There were three driving-related arrests this week in the NFL, and only the Atlanta Falcons chose that route (with running back Jason Snelling). The Kansas City Chiefs allowed receiver Dwayne Bowe to start Sunday night, while the Minnesota Vikings played receiver Jerome Simpson extensively against the Seattle Seahawks. Each team had its own reasons, but to me it's important to be clear on what their options were and are moving forward.

Gary Kubiak might coach from press box

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
3:12
PM ET
HOUSTON -- Texans coach Gary Kubiak opens each post-practice press conference by running through his injury report.

Today, he added himself.

Kubiak
Kubiak said he expects doctors to officially clear him later Friday, though he might have to coach from the press box -- the highest point in the stadium that includes people, and a place where you need binoculars to properly see the players.

"You don't hear everybody hollering at you, I guess, that's probably the advantage," Kubiak said for laughs. "I don't know. I did that for 20-some years before I became a head coach. Actually, I was on the field initially in my career. It's calm up there. It's quiet. Just a different way of looking at the football game."

Kubiak coached from the press box as a coordinator, just as offensive coordinator Rick Dennison does now. He'll leave defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who coaches from the sideline, in charge of the red challenge flag but provide guidance on when to use it.

"You don't feel emotion up there like you do when you're on the field," Kubiak said. "You've got to have guys help you with that, talk to you about stuff like that. But it's just something I've got to work through right now."

Kubiak's return will come two weeks after he suffered a transient ischemic attack, or "mini-stroke," at halftime of the Texans' game against the Indianapolis Colts. He did not travel with the Texans to Arizona last week. Phillips was the interim head coach in his absence.

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