The image of Deshaun Watson gazing in disbelief after another costly late-game fumble against the Indianapolis Colts is sure to linger with Houston Texans fans.
The quarterback and the Texans (4-10) will attempt to rebound Sunday when they host the Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1).
Watson had once again dragged the short-handed Texans to the brink of victory with his exceptional play against the Colts, only to be undermined by a second red-zone turnover in three weeks. Houston lost each those two games to Indianapolis on either side of a loss at Chicago.
The juxtaposition of the results for the Texans this season against Watson and his impressive performances will resonate into an offseason during which the Texans will have multiple needs to address, including vacancies at head coach and general manager.
Watson is the one constant. No one would question his bona fides as a top signal-caller, considering he ranks second in the NFL in passing yards (4,134) and passer rating (110.6) despite attrition at the Texans' skill positions.
"I think all of that will make him better because he's able to adapt to the receivers that he has on the field and he can still put up the good numbers," Texans interim coach Romeo Crennel said. "I think that when he gets a consistent crew, that'll just make him better down the line.
"Even though he's had good numbers, I think that he will say that the fact that we're not winning doesn't satisfy him. I think his choice would be to have good numbers and to have a lot of wins to go along with it."
The two demoralizing losses to Indianapolis left the Texans assured of a losing record this season following back-to-back AFC South division titles.
The Bengals' 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday qualified as impressive at face value. Cincinnati was riding a five-game overall losing streak, had dropped 11 consecutive games against its AFC North rival and was a double-digit underdog entering the primetime affair.
Cincinnati overcame those odds, doing so with a third-string quarterback (Ryan Finley) and without their leading receiver, Tyler Boyd, who was knocked from the contest in the early stages after sustaining a concussion.
The Bengals appear undaunted by the chore of traveling to Houston during the holidays to square off with the Texans. Preparedness hasn't been an issue.
"It hasn't been a challenge to get these guys focused at all, to be quite honest, and I think that shows on how we played the other week," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. "This week there's a lot of things to manage. It's a short week, we're on the road, you've got Christmas. But again, I've got a lot of faith in our guys to handle it the right way and we've laid out our expectations for them. And we know that they'll be pros about it."
Playing out the string of a 16-game schedule is a task in itself. Doing so during a pandemic-altered season can sap enthusiasm. The Bengals might still be without Boyd and quarterback Brandon Allen (knee) against the Texans, but their effort Monday provided a bit of a boost, perhaps enough to carry Cincinnati through the final two games of the schedule.
"This was something that we all needed," Bengals running back Giovani Bernard said of beating the Steelers. "It's something that I'm sure everybody is proud of."
--Field Level Media