OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens tight end Owen Daniels remembers receiving the sheet of paper from the Houston Texans informing him of his release. Recounting the situation Wednesday, Daniels said there was a check mark by "wasn't good enough" on why the Texans were releasing him.

"I have [the sheet] with me in the house," Daniels said. "I don't have it up in my locker. I can see it. I have a decent memory."

Daniels acknowledges that it's "going to be weird" when he plays in Houston for the first time since that divorce nine months ago.

The 32-year-old tight end left as the Texans' No. 2 all-time leading receiver with 385 catches and 4,617 yards. Daniels, who still lives in Houston, was one of the most popular players in franchise history as a result of his community work and two Pro Bowl seasons.

Leaving no doubt that his ties to the Texans still tug at his emotions, he didn't downplay the motivation of stepping on the same field where he starred for eight years.

"Obviously, when you work somewhere for so long and they say you're not good enough to play there anymore and you get a chance to play them that following season, you definitely want to prove to them that they made a mistake," Daniels said. "But I've been trying to do that all season with my play, and not just in this one game."

Daniels has exceeded expectations with the Ravens, filling the void left when tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a season-ending hip injury in Week 3. He is the Ravens' second-leading receiver with 45 catches and has scored four touchdowns. In last Sunday's 20-12 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Daniels delivered the two clutch catches -- a 29-yard reception followed by a 3-yard touchdown catch -- that helped the Ravens avoid the upset.

"I want to get him more involved because he is a good player," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I think he makes us go when we get him involved."

The biggest concern about Daniels throughout his career has been durability. Last season, he missed the final 11 games because of a broken leg. This year, Daniels has only missed one game, and the Ravens have been keeping him fresh by giving him one day off from practice each week.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said you can see the difference in Daniels when you compare the tape of the tight end from last year to this year.

"I'm just amazed at how well he's done as far as getting himself ready to play coming off the injury last year -- how fresh and young and how well he's running," Harbaugh said.

It's not lost on Daniels that he could possibly clinch a playoff berth against his former team. "A 'W.' That's the best thing that can happen," he said. But he made it clear that he still respects his original team.

"That organization gave me a chance to play in the NFL for the first time," Daniels said. "I can't be more thankful for Mr. [Bob] McNair and that organization for giving me that opportunity. They did what they had to do business-wise last year. I'm trying to be the best player I can be here. I have no ill will toward them at all."
INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton missed practice Wednesday because of the hamstring injury he suffered in the second half of Sunday’s victory over the Houston Texans.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Monday that he had hoped for Hilton to practice Wednesday or Thursday this week. “We’re going to take it day to day and I’m hopeful that he’ll be available [Sunday at Dallas],” Pagano said Wednesday.

The Colts had seven other players listed on their injury report who didn’t practice. Return specialist Joshua Cribbs (rest), cornerback Vontae Davis (groin), offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus (groin), linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (rest), offensive guard Joe Reitz (ankle), offensive guard Hugh Thornton (knee) and linebacker Erik Walden (knee).

The NFL Live crew make their picks for Baltimore at Houston.

ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley discusses the Ravens' confidence level heading into the final two weeks of the season, as well as the difficulty the defense will have preparing for an as-yet-to-be-named Texans starting quarterback.
HOUSTON -- Texans coach Bill O'Brien opened his news conference by saying he wouldn't be making the announcement we awaited.

In the interest of a competitive advantage, O'Brien will not be telling us who his starting quarterback will be this weekend. One reporter asked O'Brien how the team handled not knowing, and O'Brien replied that the team has a pretty good idea. They're installing the game plan now.

He did say Andre Johnson practiced Wednesday and caught passes from both quarterbacks Thad Lewis and Case Keenum.

"Both these guys, Case and Thad, are out there working hard," O'Brien said. "Right up until game time, that's going to be the way it is. Those decisions are decisions that have to be made. ... If you guys can, just move to the next subject, because you're not going to find out who the starting quarterback is."

O'Brien has gotten a better idea of where Keenum is since signing him off the Rams' practice squad on Monday. Keenum spent all season in St. Louis, partly on the active roster and partly on the practice squad.

As I began to ask about Keenum's improvement from the way he took sacks last season, O'Brien jumped in saying he wasn't interested in last year. After some prodding he offered this:

"He's a much better quarterback in my opinion than he was last year. He's definitely improved. He's improved in all areas as a quarterback. Understanding your scheme, understanding your system. Again it's in the past. I don't really care about what happened last year with Case, I really don't. It's all about what he's doing right now that he's here and how we can get him to understand our game plan against Baltimore."

He was much more at ease answering a question requesting his thoughts on both quarterbacks.

"Let's start with Thad," O'Brien said. "The thing I like about Thad, I've known him since he was 17 years old. He's got really good poise. He's got a good, quick release. He's a smart guy. He's a guy that I noticed right away when I worked with him as a college freshman, nothing was too big for him. He could go in there as a freshman and play Florida State, play Miami. That's the one thing that stood out to me. With Keenum, the one thing that stands out to me about Case is he's a very bright guy, he's a hard working guy. They're both hard working guys. I think Case has really good recollection. Here's a guy that hasn't really been here in four months. Comes right back into the fold yesterday and has a good recall of what we were doing back when he was here."
Gary Kubiak spent almost eight full seasons with his hometown Houston Texans. He came in with a No. 1 overall pick (Mario Williams) and by he end of his tenure had accounted for the only two division titles and playoff appearances in franchise history.

The end was ugly, though. Kubiak left on an 11-game losing streak, fired the day after the Texans lost to the Jaguars in a sloppy Thursday night game.

So how do Texans fans feel about Kubiak, who is now the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator? I turned to Twitter to find out, asking fans how they would receive Kubiak this weekend when the Ravens visit the Texans. The responses were mostly positive, with a little bit of lingering resentment and some jokes sprinkled in. Take a look:

Case Keenum glad to be back home

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
HOUSTON -- Case Keenum channeled his former coach Art Briles when discussing his return to the state of Texas and to the Houston Texans franchise.

"It means a lot," Keenum said. "This is home. This is home for me. I heard a coach say the other day that I really admire, 'When I die they're gonna bury me in Texas.' They're not going to bury me in St. Louis. I'm very thankful for the opportunity that the Rams gave me. ... Great organization, great team up there. I really enjoyed my time up there but I'm very excited to be back."

The Texans signed Keenum off the Rams' practice squad this week after losing two quarterbacks to injuries in one game. Keenum spent the past six weeks on the Rams' practice squad, and he also spent time on the active roster there as they picked him up after the Texans waived him on Aug. 31.

"It was a [whirlwind] of a couple hours," Keenum spoke of when he got the phone call the Texans wanted to sign him. Texans coach Bill O'Brien talked with Keenum either very late Sunday night or early Monday morning. By Monday, Keenum was in the Texans' facility working to catch up.

"Some recall, some not," Keenum said when asked how much he recalls of the Texans' offense. "Having to catch back up to what they're doing now. I'm just working on it one day at a time."

Keenum started eight games for the Texans during their late-season skid last season. When the Texans fired coach Gary Kubiak, owner Bob McNair said he wanted to see Keenum start the rest of the season, but an injury got in the way. The new Texans staff released Keenum as soon as they traded for Ryan Mallett.

Texans still trying to solve quarterback dilemma

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
Texans reporter Tania Ganguli says Houston has started six different quarterbacks over the past four seasons, second to the Browns over that span.
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

The NFL announced the 32 team representatives for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and Texans receiver Andre Johnson was among them, writes Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com. The award recognizes players' contributions to their communities. A former Texan is also on the list: Connor Barwin is the Eagles' representative. Three of these 32 will be selected as finalists for the award.

The Texans won't be using their quarterback situation as an excuse, writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. "This team is going to play hard," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "This team is going to compete, and we're going to play to win. That's what we're going to do regardless of who's playing what position. I have no doubt about that."

Will Grubb of Sports Radio 610 passes on O'Brien's assessment of his and his staff's first season: “Overall, for the first year of this staff, I think we've done a pretty damn good job of coaching this team," O'Brien said on the Texans Radio coaches show on SportsRadio 610. “We're proud of this team. These guys have really given us good effort and these guys have really bought in to what we're trying to do, which is hard work, compete, play tough, and play smart. It hasn't always looked that way but I still think we're in a position to be playing something in January, so at the end of the day that's pretty good in my book."

MVP debate: Who's most deserving?

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16

The NFL MVP debate usually begins around midseason, when a handful of players start to separate themselves from the pack and make it clear they're having special seasons. Then the pool of candidates gets smaller -- some players regress; others suffer injuries.

The interesting part about the 2014 season is that the names in contention after eight games remain largely the same heading into Week 16. Houston defensive end J.J. Watt got off to a great start, and now he's having a fantastic season. But is it historic enough to overcome a bias toward offensive players?

Three quarterbacks in contention already have won the award: Denver's Peyton Manning (five times), New England's Tom Brady (twice) and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (once).

Then there's Dallas running back DeMarco Murray. At the start of the season, the others discussed here would have been on most lists of MVP contenders. But Murray? He was an ascending runner, coming off a good season (1,121 yards, nine touchdowns). But no one could anticipate him accounting for 38 percent of the Cowboys' yards from scrimmage. Will he get enough credit for transforming Dallas?

The other question is, how do you differentiate what these players have accomplished? The award traditionally goes to a quarterback, and only two defensive players have ever been named MVP.

(Read full post)

A quick observation of quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage and how they played in the Houston Texans' 17-10 loss in Week 15:

This is the second time this season I'm doing one of these about quarterbacks who won't be playing in the next game. So goes the Texans' luck at the position as both Fitzpatrick and Savage are out with injuries. The Texans will now turn to Case Keenum or Thad Lewis, though on Monday, it sure sounded like Texans coach Bill O'Brien thought Keenum's familiarity might make him the right choice.

Fitzpatrick completed 3 of 6 pass attempts and broke his leg very early in the second quarter on a very characteristic scramble. He's not a guy who likes to slide. In an interview with Fox Sports Southwest's Patti Smith last week, he explained that he thinks sliding increases his chance of getting hurt because he's not coordinated enough to do it properly and he also knows not sliding could earn him a few extra yards. In this case it did, but he was tripped on his way down, then had a large defensive player fall on him. You admire his toughness, but on Sunday the cost was not worth the few extra yards.

Thrown in suddenly, Savage grew up a lot during the course of a game in which he made a lot of mistakes but also showed promise on a few plays. His botched handoff to running back Arian Foster was one of those mistakes, and he sailed a few passes that could have given the Texans a stronger chance to win the game. Late in the third quarter, he threw a beautiful deep ball to DeVier Posey that gained 30 yards and kept a field goal drive alive.
Join us Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) for ESPN NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast, as episode No. 36 will cover the latest from the NFL.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Pat McManamon (Cleveland Browns reporter) as he talks Johnny Manziel, who was more Johnny Rotten than Johnny Football in his NFL starting debut.

Also, Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) stops by to discuss Tom Brady's slow-motion run that sent a message, while Pat Yasinskas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter) opines on whether Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is on the Bucs’ radar should they get the No. 1 overall pick.

Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) will break down Aaron Rodgers' subpar showing in Buffalo and how it might affect not only the Pack’s shot at landing home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs but also Rodgers’ MVP candidacy. And Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals reporter) will have the latest on Ryan Lindley's shot at pulling the upset in Seattle and solidifying the Cardinals’ standing as the NFC’s top seed, while Gutierrez will break down the latest with the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh’s future.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

There is no shortage of praise heaped upon Texans defensive end J.J. Watt these days, but some opinions count more than others.

Lindsay Jones of USA Today did well to collect one that carries a great deal of weight.

The last defensive player to win the league's MVP award was Lawrence Taylor in 1986. He offered this high praise of Watt.
"I really like the way the kid plays," Taylor told USA Today Sports in an email. "Honest effort on every snap, tremendous size, strength and athleticism. We play two different positions, and he is bigger than I was, but the common similarity is the relentless mindset. I never gave up on a play. The kid plays the same way."


"J.J. reminds me of Michael Strahan, stopping the run or rushing the passer, equally as strong," Taylor said. "I took a lot of pride in my ability to do both. The truly great defensive lineman distinguish themselves that way."

Her very thorough piece also includes thoughts from Dick Vermiel, Bruce Smith and lots and lots of thoughts from Dwight Freeney, who kicked back and prepared her for lots of thoughts about the injustices defensive players face when they thinks defensive players are unfairly maligned in the MVP discussion. From the story:
"Let me tell you why. It's because the NFL wants to put their focus on the quarterback. Right off the bat, a defensive player trying to win an MVP award — it's almost impossible," Freeney said. "I guess for defensive players who aspire to being the MVP, you just know it's going to an offensive player. Why is it like that? Why?"

It's likely what Freeney describes will hurt Watt. Or maybe all the external campaigning (because Watt certainly won't do any) will make a difference.
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans...

Case Keenum might get his shot at redemption this weekend, writes Randy Harvey of the Houston Chronicle. Keenum could have a chance to prove wrong both Houston head coaches he's played for, as they'll both be at NRG Stadium on Sunday.

We cannot leave the first Keenum RTC of the regular season without hearing from our friend Chris Baldwin of Houston's Culture Map, a consistent Keenum supporter:
While saying he would wait to officially name the starter for Baltimore until a little later in the week, O'Brien appears to have tipped his hand. The coach noted how impossible it is for [Thaddeus] Lewis to have learned the Texans' entire complex offense in the few weeks he's been with the team and how Keenum has an advantage from having been with the team through the entire offseason and training camp.

Baldwin acknowledges that Keenum is not likely here for a shot at being the Texans' quarterback of the future, then says:
But that's a debate for another day. The chance to start again -- particularly if he finally gets to play with Arian Foster (at this point in the season Foster appears to be a game-time decision every Sunday) -- for even a brief window represents a priceless opportunity for a quarterback who is always fighting preconceived NFL notions. Andre Johnson -- who actually does get thrown the ball in the end zone by Keenum -- will be back for the Ravens game after missing the game in Indianapolis with lingering concussion symptoms.

Rolling Stone's Greg Couch also thinks J.J. Watt deserves the league's MVP award. Couch makes the solid point that the rules of football limit defenses more than offenses, but still Watt is able to make a major impact. He writes: "Because, at some point, people have to get sick of watching Rodgers play pitch-and-catch with his receivers, right? Am I the only one who misses hard-nosed football, and hopes the NFL loosens the restraints on defensive players?"

John Harris of HoustonTexans.com goes through a game the Texans nearly won despite a lot going against them. He offers his 24 thoughts. I thought this was very telling:
16. During our weekly Telestrator segment, I always pick the plays for Coach O’Brien and I to break down. So, I picked a few from the Jaguars win and then we always preview the next opponent. As such, I picked a couple of plays from the Browns-Colts game to telestrate ... is that an actual verb? Well, it is now. Either way, we finished the Jaguars plays and we started on the Browns-Colts plays. As we got a minute or so into it, OB stopped and said “Johnny, can we just do Jaguars plays?” Of course, I said, but he continued “I like what they did and we might do that”. Say no more, Coach, so I didn’t and told no one throughout the week. Early in the game, I realized that OB wasn’t kidding as I saw the Texans utilizing a few of those schemes. Glad I gave OB the idea (and just in case you don’t know my humor I’m kidding).