HOUSTON -- Rebuilds take time in any professional sport. Doing it right the first time is the difference between struggling two years or two decades.
For the Houston Texans, it's hard to say the rebuild under the new regime is going smoothly. They won a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars to begin the season and seemed to have potential.
All that evaporated within three weeks, culminating in the worst loss in franchise history Sunday - a 40-0 blowout in Buffalo.
Expectations were low to begin the season. But how much lower can they get?
“For whatever reason, I did not have them ready to play,” Texans coach David Culley said. “I’ve got to do a better job. Our coaches have got to do a better job. We got outcoached and outplayed today."
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Reporters near the Texans' locker room at Highmark Stadium could hear Culley giving an earful to not just the players, but also his staff following the loss to the Bills. Granted Buffalo is a Super Bowl LVI contender, but that performance was embarrassing.
Even if quarterback Josh Allen, receiver Stefon Diggs and the Bills' first-team offense wouldn't have played, Houston still would have lost. Backup quarterback Mitchell Trubisky scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, making it 7-0 for Buffalo's backups.
Houston managed only 109 total yards of offense. On Buffalo's final two drives, it recorded two touchdowns and picked up three first downs.
The Texans had six all afternoon.
Oh, and don't blame the weather. Culley isn't letting the downpour downplay the fact it was simply poor play.
“We made some bad decisions," Culley said. "We just didn’t play very good football, and it had nothing to do with the weather.”
Maybe things would be different if starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was calling the offense. He has another week on the injured reserve before he can ever return to practice. Then again, with his laundry list of injuries, will he even play again this season?
This is the NFL, where second chances only come for those getting paid top dollar. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills is a third-round pick. He'll be given this season to prove he can be the heir apparent to Deshaun Watson at NRG Drive.
The early review, however, are ugly. A four-interception game and under 100 passing yards? A passer rating of 23.4 and didn't even pick up a first down through the air?
Hardly the look of a franchise quarterback.
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Not all can be blamed on a rookie fresh from the college ranks with only 11 career starts. His supporting cast did little to help. Four players combined for 48 yards rushing.
Receiver Brandin Cooks had only 47 yards receiving. The remainder of the receiver corp? Forty yards combined.
“Just bad offensive football, no consistency,” Culley said. “We have to be able to stay on the field consistently on first and second down. We weren’t able to do that. And it’s not just our up-front people."
At least the defense did its job early.
It forced an early interception of Allen, setting Houston up just outside the red zone. Buffalo began the day 0 of 3 in the red zone, settling for three field goals and going up 19-0 with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
So, what happened defense after that?
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Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith's zone-based scheme collapsed. It allowed 165 yards and three touchdowns in roughly 18 minutes, sealing any chance for Houston offense's to score, much less cover the gaudy 16-point spread.
“That’s not the way we’ve been playing," Culley said on his defense. "I told the players to hang in there, and we’re going to get that corrected.”
Smith's defense now has allowed 31 points in the fourth quarter over the past two games. Mills has a 2:5 touchdown to interception ratio through 10 quarters. Despite an emphasis on establishing the run, Houston ranks 27th.
One step forward, three steps back.
Rebuilds are tough, but they're meant to show potential. The Detroit Lions are 0-4, but head coach Dan Campbell has them playing tight until the end. The Jacksonville Jaguars remain winless, but can't-miss quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence is under contract for the next five years.
The New York Jets have won a game with rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. The Philadelphia Eagles have up to three first-round picks next April. Even the Atlanta Falcons have an offense that can score with Matt Ryan at the helm.
Houston has, frankly, nothing.
With how both sides are playing, a long season is sure to follow. The only positive is knowing that the only place the Texans can go would be up.
Then again, is this even rock-bottom yet?
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