A vic­tory at Ten­nessee can put Tex­ans back on track af­ter be­ing de­railed in New Eng­land

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SPORTS SUNDAY - BRIAN T. SMITH twit­­bri­an­smith

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The last thing Bill O’Brien wants to do is lose to Bill Belichick and Mike Vra­bel in back-to-back games.

De­shaun Wat­son, Jade­veon Clowney and Whit­ney Mer­cilus should be bet­ter in Week 2.

And if the Tex­ans are go­ing to do what they need to do this sea­son, it will start with a road vic­tory against the beat-up Ten­nessee Ti­tans.

“Work day. Go to work day,” said a veteran Texan, who walked through the team’s locker room with his hel­met on, on the way to­ward another early sea­son prac­tice.

Win or lose Sun­day at Nis­san Sta­dium, it will be too early to say any­thing de­fin­i­tive about O’Brien’s new team. If the Tex­ans fall to 0-2, the 2015 sea­son must im­me­di­ately be re­called. O’Brien’s squad was win­less through its open­ing two con­tests that year and started a very back­ward 2-5 dur­ing the team’s “Hard Knocks” sea­son. They ended up 9-7, won the AFC South — while re­ly­ing on Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mal­lett, T.J. Yates and Bran­don Wee­den at quar­ter­back — and hosted a play­off game.

We ex­pect more dur­ing O’Brien’s fifth sea­son, though, which is why Week 1 at New Eng­land was so dis­ap­point­ing.

The same old mis­takes. The same tired let­down.

“We started real slow. And even when things were go­ing well, we couldn’t re­ally com­ple­ment each other,” veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “That’s things that we have to get bet­ter on go­ing for­ward. … We’ve got some young guys, so it’s re­ally up to the lead­er­ship to keep harp­ing on those things. It’s re­ally about just be­ing con­sis­tent. Even last week, I felt like if we played con­sis­tent, we would’ve won that game.

“We’ve just got to keep in mind that we’re a good foot­ball team. But just be­cause we’re good doesn’t mean we’re go­ing to win ev­ery game. Some games we’re go­ing to get in, we’re go­ing to have a lot of ad­ver­sity. It may be some games we get there and it’s like none of us know how to play foot­ball. So we’ve got to fight our way through things. As long as the lead­er­ship is sound, I think a lot of the young guys will fall in line.”

The ‘bet­ter team’ lost

The rea­soned, long-term think­ing Mathieu sounded more ur­gent an­swer­ing other ques­tions. His earnest tone was backed up by a team that was tak­ing the sec­ond game of a 16-game sea­son more se­ri­ous than nor­mal — a team that clearly doesn’t want to start another sea­son in an early hole.

The Tex­ans have too of­ten been a roller coaster un­der O’Brien. With sta­bil­ity fi­nally at QB, ur­gency was the key word dur­ing the build up to Week 2.

Ten­nessee is an op­por­tu­nity. Don’t screw it up.

“I think we’re fo­cused, I think we’re ready. I think a lot of guys want to get that taste out of their mouth,” Mathieu said. “And even go­ing back and watch­ing the tape, (Rob) Gronkowski was wide open. It’s like, ‘Why is Gronkowski wide open?’ You know what I mean?

“It’s just lit­tle things like that. A lot of things were self-in­flicted. I think a lot of guys saw that tape last week and re­al­ized that we prob­a­bly were the bet­ter team last week, we just didn’t do it long enough. I think this week we’ll def­i­nitely try to be the most phys­i­cal team, but def­i­nitely play way more con­sis­tent.”

Mar­cus Mar­i­ota will take the field as a walk­ing ques­tion mark; well-trav­eled veteran backup Blaine Gab­bert is ex­pected to see No. 1 time. Ten­nessee’s of­fen­sive line is al­ready bat­tered and the Ti­tans’ sea­son-open­ing loss at Mi­ami was an unin­spir­ing de­but for the learn­ing-on-the-job Vra­bel, who sur­prised the NFL when he took over for the un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated Mike Mu­larkey.

Speedy Will Fuller is set to re­turn for the Tex­ans, while Wat­son has had a post-loss week to knock off the rest of his off­sea­son rust.

“When­ever some­thing bad hap­pened or some­thing didn’t go our way (at New Eng­land), just be­ing able to pull ev­ery­one up, in­stead of ev­ery­one just kind of com­ing back to the bench and sit­ting down and not say­ing a word,” said Wat­son, re­flect­ing on a 27-20 de­feat that was char­ac­ter­ized by the young QB’s low en­ergy. “Just be­ing able to keep en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple and be­ing able to put a smile on my face, have fun with the game. That was one thing that we didn’t do.

“We didn’t re­ally have too much fun. We were too fo­cused on the things that didn’t go our way in­stead of try­ing to find some pos­i­tives. So that’ll get cor­rected and be able to move for­ward from there.”

Some­thing to build on

The play­off-bound Tex­ans win this game.

A team no longer blam­ing in­juries and bad luck cap­i­tal­izes on Ten­nessee’s early mis­for­tune.

“We all need to do bet­ter,” said O’Brien, sum­ming up the early-sea­son state of his team in six words.

The Tex­ans should be bet­ter in Week 2.

They need to leave Nashville with a vic­tory to build on.

Brett Coomer / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Coach Bill O’Brien sum­ma­rizes the Tex­ans’ 0-1 start by stat­ing the ob­vi­ous: “We all need to do bet­ter.”

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