David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Bill O'Brien is latest Belichick disciple to embarrass himself on the sidelines

Alex Reimer
September 10, 2018 - 10:14 am

It was looking good for Bill O’Brien. The Texans’ head coach appeared to be the one Bill Belichick disciple who could make it on his own, rather than putting on a second-rate Hoodie tribute act en route to sub-.500 finishes. At Penn State, O’Brien brought the Nittany Lions back to respectability in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, leading them to two winning seasons. In Houston, the Texans qualified for the playoffs twice and won a postseason game during O’Brien’s first three years at the helm, despite the fact he went through eight different starting quarterbacks. 

The Texans did go 4-12 last year, but hardly anybody could blame O’Brien. His stud young quarterback, Deshaun Watson, tore his ACL in early November. Surely, when Watson returned to health, the Texans would continue their upward march. Houston was a popular Super Bowl pick this preseason. 

But judging from the Texans’ Week 1 performance in Foxboro, they’re a long way from respectability, never mind Super Bowl contention. The Patriots demolished the Texans 27-20, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. Houston only scored its second touchdown of the day after two Patriots’ penalties in the red zone had set them up on the one-yard line, where Watson was promptly sacked for a loss of four. Finally, Watson connected with wideout Bruce Ellington in the end zone, after a lethargic series of play calls that sent Tony Romo into cardiac arrest in the broadcast booth. Despite being down two scores, the Texans took two minutes and 20 seconds to punch in the ball from the Patriots’ 16-yard line. They were only gifted that field position after Riley McCarron had muffed a punt from Trevor Daniel, whom O’Brien inexplicably called onto the field with 4:41 to go and a 14-point deficit. 

For most coaches, conservative game-calling while down two touchdowns with less than five minutes remaining in regulation would be the worst indictment you could give about their performance in a single week. But not O’Brien. He made an even bigger blunder in the first half, opting to not challenge a questionable grab from Rob Gronkowski in the second quarter that set up New England’s third touchdown. Though the play happened inside of two minutes –– meaning the referees were responsible for reviewing it –– O’Brien could’ve called for a timeout to slow down the game and give the officials more time to contemplate a decision. The Patriots were likely anticipating the delay, too, as they quick-huddled after the catch. 

But O’Brien didn’t signal for a timeout. He also got real snarky when asked about his error, completing his real-time transformation from promising head coach to Eric Mangini.

With Jacksonville’s stout defense and Andrew Luck seemingly healthy, the AFC South doesn’t look like it’s going to be the cakewalk it’s been in previous seasons. If O’Brien coaches like he did Sunday, there will be plenty of more embarrassments for the Texans this year before his inevitable dismissal.