The Houston Texans signing quarterback Brock Osweiler to a $72 million contract in the offseason has been criticized as a questionable move five weeks into the 2016 NFL season.
Osweiler and the Texans’ offense had struggled mightily entering their Sunday Night Football clash with the Indianapolis Colts, a game that had major implications in the AFC South. A loss would put Houston in a three-way tie with the Colts and the Tennessee Titans. That surely would have cranked up the pressure from critics on Osweiler, who wasn’t signed to lead the Texans to a 3-3 record and the middle of the pack in a division they expected to win.
For three quarters, Osweiler’s struggles continued as the Texans offense sputtered at home against a weak Colts defensive unit. The absence of star rookie wideout Will Fuller and more average play from Osweiler allowed the Colts to hold onto a 23-9 lead in the final stretch as the Texans were on the brink of a disaster.
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2016
That was before Osweiler and the Texans came to life, mounting a comeback that could turn around their season. A big drive was capped off with a Lamar Miller touchdown catch-and-run, followed by a forced three-and-out from the Texans defense. That allowed Osweiler to make the biggest throw of his career to date, an absolute dart to C.J. Fiedorowicz to tie the score and send the game to overtime. For one night, the narrative surrounding Osweiler changed as the highly priced Texans quarterback finally stepped up when he needed to.
In overtime, the Texans defense once again stepped up and forced the Colts to punt on the first drive of the extra session. That stop allowed Osweiler to cap off the comeback with a calm and collected game-winning drive. A throw to Jaelen Strong along the sidelines finished with an excellent diving catch essentially served as the game winner. Nick Novak followed up with a chip shot, completing a 17-point swing to give the Texans the win, along with a 4-2 record.
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2016
Osweiler’s turnaround in the final minutes also salvaged his box score, finishing with a respectable 25-for-39 passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns. It was the quarterback’s best outing so far for the Texans and gives a glimmer of hope. Maybe Osweiler will be able to live up to his large salary and build from a momentum-creating, fourth-quarter comeback.
The debate that will surround Osweiler and the Texans this week will be whether to evaluate the result or evaluate the three-plus quarters of very average play from the offense against a subpar Colts defense. It will be a challenge to ignore what was a mostly bad game against a bad team, but the Texans should receive credit for putting together two solid drives when they absolutely needed to in order to grind out a big divisional win.
Up next is a road game against the Denver Broncos highlighted by the battle between Osweiler and his replacement in Trevor Siemian. All eyes will be on Osweiler once again, but he now has some positive momentum behind him. That could provide a needed boost for a Texans offense which struggled in their last two big tests against the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings, and now faces the vaunted Broncos defense on the road.
The concerns surrounding the Texans offense that have existed all season will likely return. But for one game in prime time, Osweiler looked like he could be the real deal, capable of growing into his role as the leader in Houston. At 25 and with just a handful of starts with the Broncos under his belt, Osweiler is still developing in the face of immense pressure. That gets lost when evaluating his play. While he is a $72 million prospect, any progress for Osweiler should be viewed as a step in the right direction for the Texans. Houston needs him to live up to his contract over four years more than it needs him to win a Super Bowl in his first season with the team.
Osweiler will continue to have an up-and-down season as he develops, and because of that, he’ll face more heat this season. But the win over the Colts should provide some validation for the much-maligned passer. With the mediocre competition in the AFC South, he appears ready to guide the Texans to a division crown after a mature comeback that showed he could step his game up to a higher level and lead his team to victory.
In year one, a limited ceiling from the expensive, but still developing quarterback might be the best to expect. That should be enough to silence some of the critics, especially if the Texans are good enough to get into the playoffs from a weak division. For now, it’s sufficient to give Osweiler some credit as he grows under the immense spotlight that comes with a big contract awarded before he has fully proved himself.