Ryan Mallett wins battle of Tom Brady backups

It’s not very often that a backup football player dazzles the world when he finally gets his chance to start a game in the National Football League, especially if he’s been around for four years.

But that’s exactly what happened Sunday afternoon in Cleveland when Ryan Mallett, a former backup quarterback to New England Patriot’s star Tom Brady and more recently Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Houston Texans, got his big chance and led his team to a convincing 23-7 victory over the Browns before 67,431 screaming fans in their famous “Dog Pound.”

First-year Head Coach Bill O’Brien took a risky gamble when he announced during the start of the Texans open date two weeks ago that Mallett would start in place of Fitzpatrick at quarterback in an effort to shake the team out of their doldrums that resulted in a very mundane 4-5 record.

But O’Brien felt confident that Mallett was ready for the chance despite the fact he had played in only four NFL games during his entire pro career. O’Brien had coached him during his tenure as quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator at New England.

Ironically, O’Brien also mentored Brian Hoyer, who earned the starting quarterback position over the much-publicized first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel for the Cleveland Browns at the start of the season and would be competing against his old counterpart Mallett on Sunday.

Actually O’Brien’s game plan for Mallett was a simple one– feed the football to star running back Arian Foster. 

But Foster’s aggravating groin injury did not heal as quickly as expected, forcing the team to announce Friday that Foster would be inactive for the game against the three-point favored Cleveland Browns.

This meant that another inexperienced player, rookie running back Alfred Blue, would start in place of the injured Foster. This certainly became a huge concern for O’Brien and his coaching staff, to have two players in the Texans’ starting backfield–one making his first NFL start (Mallett) and the other (Blue) starting for only the second time in his short career.

But O’Brien must have some of that old “Luck of the Irish” because both Mallett and Blue had monstrous games against the Browns, who went into the game leading the AFC North Division with a surprising 6-3 record.

The Texans’ victory, coupled with the Indianapolis Colts’42-20 loss at home to Brady and his New England Patriots, catapulted Houston back in the playoff picture, only one game out of first place in the AFC South Division.

It could realistically be said that Mallett and Blue’s outstanding performance Sunday actually saved the Houston Texans’ 2014 season. Many diehard fans believed the team would be 4-6 today, hoping the Texans would win out to have a chance for the post-season playoffs.

The Texans came up with their second-best performance in franchise history when it was needed most. 

Both Mallett and Hoyer completed 20 passes, but the Cleveland quarterback had 50 passing attempts compared to only 30 for Mallett, who connected for 211 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 95.3. 

           His first career touchdown was a two-yard floater, caught by defensive star J.J. Watt, who lined up as a tight end in the goal line offense.

And Watt had another monstrous game—besides becoming the first lineman to score four touchdowns since 1948—recording a sack (giving him a season total of 9 ½ ), a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and three tackles for losses on running plays. In his aggressiveness, Watt also was guilty of two 15-yard roughing-the-kicker penalties.

Blue established a franchise record with his 36 carries that produced 136 yards and an average of 4.3 yards per tote.

Mallett is spending this week studying game film and practicing for Sunday’s opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, who have taken over first place in the AFC North Division with a 6-3-1 record. 

           Let’s hope the Texans don’t think that because they beat Cleveland and the Browns embarrassed the Bengals that this will be an easy game Sunday.

And I wonder if Cleveland Head Coach Mike Pettine might follow O’Brien’s lead and replace Brian Hoyer with Johnny Manziel. It’s just a thought—but the timing couldn’t be any better.

KWICKIES…It hasn’t happened very often but Sunday was a rare time when both Peyton and Eli Manning were on losing teams. In the Denver Broncos 22-7 upset loss to the St. Louis Rams, Peyton suffered two interceptions. Not to be outdone, younger brother Eli was picked off five times in the New York Giants 16-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. That’s seven Manning interceptions in one day!!!

And speaking of the St. Louis Rams, they have won only four games so far this season, but have become giant killers with victories against both 2014 Super Bowl participants Seattle and Denver, plus an upset win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Sunset Grove golfer Lloyd McLellan recently had a hole-in-one on the 151-yard Par 3, No. 3 hole. Unfortunately, McLellan is not a member of the Men’s Golf Association and consequently missed out on the $200 check which would have paid his MGA dues for five years.

The Lamar Cardinals enjoyed a good weekend in which their football team was assured of their first winning season since 1974 after beating Incarnate Word 31-20 for their seventh win of the season. If they can upset McNeese State Saturday night in Lake Charles, they will tie the school record for the most wins ever. And not to be denied, the Cardinal basketball team got the 2014-15 season started on the right foot Sunday with a 78-75 victory over LSU-Alexandria.

It’s not a big surprise that Will Muschamp lost his head football coaching job at Florida last weekend. The Gators are 5-4 this season and Muschamp’s record is 27-20 and 17-15 in the Southeastern Conference for three-plus years. He will coach the final two regular-season games against Eastern Kentucky and Florida State.

Mississippi State, which was a 10-point underdog to Alabama Saturday, dropped in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 College Football Poll from No. 1 to No. 4 while the Crimson Tide jumped two places to No. 2 with their 25-20 victory over the Bulldogs. Undefeated Florida State moved up one notch to No. 1 while No 3 Oregon, No. 5 TCU and No. 6 Baylor all retained their positions from last week’s poll. Ohio State moved up one place to No. 7, Ole Miss went up two spots to No. 8, Georgia leaped from No. 16 to No. 9 and Michigan State came up two places to No. 10. No. 19 Missouri, No. 23 Oklahoma and No. 24 Southern Cal all rejoined the Top 25 after not being ranked last week.

JUST BETWEEN US…The Seattle Seahawks were one of a half-dozen teams that suffered an upset loss Sunday in an individual battle of Southeast Texas stars. Orange’s All-Pro safety Earl Thomas caused two Kansas City fumbles and a season-high 11 solo tackles as his Seahawks came up a bit short in the hard-fought 24-20 setback. The Chiefs were led by Port Arthur’s All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles who rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Other teams stung by the Upset Bug last week were the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins and the Detroit Lions.