Deshaun Watson or bust: Bill O’Brien cannot go back to Tom Savage

By Jesse Reed
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans haven’t stuck with a quarterback in a long time. When Deshaun Watson got the start Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals he became the ninth starting quarterback for Houston since head coach Bill O’Brien took over as head coach in 2014. That’s more turnover at the most important position in the league than any team in the NFL, including the Cleveland Browns, in the same stretch of time.

It was always inevitable that the Texans would be starting Watson at some point in 2017. If we knew anything for certain about Tom Savage it was that he was going to end up losing his job at some point, whether due to poor performance or injury. On top of that, Houston’s decision to trade next year’s first-round pick to move up for Watson showed a level of commitment regarding the quarterback position we haven’t seen from this team since it made the move to draft David Carr No. 1 overall in 2002.

Watson ended up getting his shot earlier than most figured he would. The Texans, with or without holdout left tackle Duane Brown, feature an offensive line that is going to be problematic for the foreseeable future. The immobile Savage looked like a fish out of water in the team’s home opener to a hungry Jacksonville Jaguars squad that feasted on his flesh for the first half. Houston’s offense managed just 66 yards in the first half. Savage was sacked six times and lost two fumbles.

Then O’Brien made a smart move to admit Savage was doomed and put his rookie into the game. Watson was as raw as an uncut diamond, but we managed to see some of the shimmer that dwells within the young quarterback nevertheless. He led the game’s only scoring drive and was much more composed under duress than his veteran teammate.

For the first time in a long time, Texans fans had reason to hope.

O’Brien made another good call to keep his rookie in the starting lineup for Thursday night’s game against the Bengals. Some people thought the decision would doom Watson to failure. But after last Sunday’s debacle this scribe wrote it was clear Watson was the only quarterback the Texans could use going forward — that O’Brien had made a mistake starting Savage to begin with.

Watson was far from perfect in Houston’s ugly 13-9 win over Cincinnati. He finished with just 125 yards passing but managed to break free on a brilliant 49-yard touchdown run, which proved to be the only touchdown scored in the affair. More than that, Watson led a tremendous drive in the game’s final minutes to get Houston into field-goal range and push the lead to four points, meaning the Bengals needed a touchdown to win instead of a field goal.

It’s clear the Texans have to stick with Watson in 2017. Just like Hue Jackson has decided to commit to DeShone Kizer through his good plays and bad, O’Brien has to make the same level of commitment to his rookie passer.

Is Watson good enough to lead Houston deep into the playoffs? Probably not. At best, he can help Houston get into the postseason. But much like we saw with Dak Prescott last year, he won’t be able to out-duel the best quarterbacks in the game. But he is good enough to help the Texans stay afloat and compete. He’s not going to fold under pressure. If anything, pressure seems to make Watson shine all the more. It did in college, and his ability to thrive when things break down has certainly translated to the NFL so far.

Watson will have his bad games. He will drive O’Brien and Texans fans mad on more than one occasion because he’s still extremely raw. But he’ll also provide a spark this team hasn’t had offensively, perhaps ever.

At this point it’s Watson or bust. To bench him in favor of Savage — a guy who’s clearly not the answer — at any point for reasons other than injury would be completely pointless. The quarterback carousel must be a thing of the past. It’s obvious the Texans’ best chance of success lies in their rookie quarterback, who clearly has the skills to pay the bills.