Schaub's shaky performance the elephant in the room

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Schaub's shaky performance the elephant in the room

FOXBORO -- For the second time in a month, Houston Texans safety Danieal Manning walked out of the visitor's locker room at Gillette Stadium with his No. 38 letterman jacket.

This time he carried it around his arm. And this time, there would be no next time.

Sunday marked Houston's second loss of the year to the Patriots, in New England. But this is the playoffs. And with a 41-28 loss, the Texans' season is done. And it ends in the same round of the playoffs as it did last year.

"We've been down this road before, and we just can't get over this divisional round," said Manning after Sunday's loss. "We felt like we had a great team. We had people that we needed last year, that were able to get into playoffs this year, and still, we couldn't close the door."

He's talking about Matt Schaub, who missed last year's playoffs with a foot injury. With Schaub healthy, the Texans figured this year would be different.

But after another tough loss to the Patriots, and their season over, Schaub's performance was the elephant in Houston's locker room.

Schaub finished the game 34-of-51 for 343 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. But those two touchdown passes came way too late, the timing of the interception was devastating, and at the end of the day, he didn't make as many plays as Tom Brady.

He needed to be great. But on Sunday night, Schaub was, well, not good enough.

"It's quarterback-driven. And I knew it was going to be that way," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak afterwards. "This team's very difficult to run the ball against. We had a lot of opportunities to make plays in the pass game, and we did make a lot. But there were some more that we missed.

"And we talked. You've got to come in here and play great. And he did a lot of dang good things. And it's my job to keep pushing him towards greatness."

Kubiak went on to defend his quarterback, calling Schaub "one of the top quarterbacks in football." But still, it felt as if something was missing.

"You don't get over that hump unless you're willing to keep going back there keep getting yourself in that position," said Kubiak. "It's very, very difficult. I do not take anything for granted for where we are tonight, because it's hard to get there. But I believe in our quarterback wholeheartedly. My point is, we're going to continue to push him to a new level, as a player."

If Schaub was at the level the Texans needed him to be at, he would have put the ball in the end zone well before the fourth quarter. In fact, he should have threw a touchdown pass in the opening possession, after Manning returned the opening kickoff 94 yards, down to New England's 12-yard line.

But instead of a touchdown, the Texans ran three plays and settled for a field goal.

"We had the big return and we want to go out there and put up seven in that situation and they held us to three," said Schaub. "We cant settle down there especially against a team like this in their building; weve got to get touchdowns down there."

Schaub's first pass -- on second down -- should have been caught in the end zone by fullback James Casey, but he dropped the pass. Then, on third down, Schaub had Andre Johnson wide open in the back of the end zone, but the throw was well behind him.

"It got away from me a little bit," said Schaub. "I was a little late with the football going from my read low to high, and the safety was coming from the backside, so I tried to get in there, but it just took off a little on me."

"Those are big plays you've got to make," said Kubiak. "And there's a few of those in this game When you miss them and they make them, in the long haul, that's the difference in winning and losing in this league.

"You've got to step up and make those plays if you want this organization to take the next step."

Again, the elephant in the room.

Following the game, the Texans continued to point out that they "didn't make enough plays" to win the game. That is true, especially in crucial third-down situations.

Houston went 4-for-15 on third down. That's under 27 percent. Not good enough.

"The thing that jumps at me is, I think we must have had five 3rd-and-10's in the first half," said Kubiak. "And they had them too. They made them and we didn't. They made some great plays. And when you get in this environment, you get in games like this, you've got to step up and make those type of plays. And I think we had our opportunities."

Arian Foster did his job on Sunday. He finished the game with 90 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, and 63 receiving yards and a touchdown reception.

But Schaub needed to do more, when the game was still in reach. And with the Texans trailing only 24-13 in the third quarter, Schaub had a chance to finish off a drive that started at his own 10-yard line.

They marched all the way down to New England's 37-yard line, when Schaub threw an interception over the middle to Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, with 4:14 left in the third quarter.

"We liked the look with James Casey working over the middle, and they dropped a D-end out there, and I just didn't get enough height on it," said Schaub. "Ninkovich jumped up and made the play and ultimately hes the one that came down with the ball. But we had a play with James just over the top of that defensive end."

Ninkovich made the play, and Brady turned it into a six-play, 63-yard touchdown drive and a 31-13 Patriots lead.

Schaub's two touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter. By then, it was too little, too late. And it ended in a 41-28 Patriots win, leaving the Texans questioning what went wrong.

Actually, they weren't questioning. They already knew the answer.

"That's the thing, when you play against a team like this, they're capable of scoring every time they touch the ball," said a discouraged Johnson after the loss. "And we knew that. We knew that we had to come in and score points as an offense. And not kick field goals, but score touchdowns when we got in the red zone.

"They made more plays than we made, and they won the game."

Schaub was asked if he felt his name belongs in the same level as the four quarterbacks who are moving onto the conference championships. Those quarterbacks are Brady, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Colin Kaepernick.

"There is no doubt that I belong," said Schaub. "I think I belong right up there with every one of them."

The Texans thought Schaub's presence would help them get further than they did last year. But that was obviously not the case.

"You feel like, when you get back to the same spot that you were last year, you think you'd be able to overcome the things that you went through last year," said Johnson. "We got back to the same spot, and ended in the same spot. So we weren't able to overcome those things.

Johnson also pointed out that you don't get many shots at a championship, with the type of talent the Texans have on the roster.

"It took me nine years just to get two shots," Johnson. "So, I don't know. We just have to keep fighting, keep working, and keep banging on that door. And hopefully it will fall down."

As we saw on Sunday, that won't happen until Schaub takes his game to that next level.

It's the elephant in the room.

BRITISH OPEN: Spieth, Kuchar, Koepka in lead with 65s after Round 1

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BRITISH OPEN: Spieth, Kuchar, Koepka in lead with 65s after Round 1

SOUTHPORT, England -The wind off the Irish Sea pushed away the rain clouds and bathed Royal Birkdale in sunshine, Stars and Stripes.

The British Open began Thursday with an All-American flavor.

Jordan Spieth, chomping away on gum as he watched one putt after another pour into the center of the cup, worked some bunker magic of his own late in the round to keep his card filled only with birdies and pars for a 5-under 65.

U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, with no competition and barely any practice since capturing his first major a month ago, ran off three straight birdies and holed a tough shot from a pot bunker for eagle on the par-5 17th hole for a 5-under 65.

Joining them was Matt Kuchar, who first endeared himself to these British fans as a 19-year-old amateur in 1998 at Royal Birkdale. Kuchar tied the course record with a 29 on the front nine, only to fall into a routine of pars the rest of the way. He still shot 65, his best score ever in a major.

They had a one-shot lead over Paul Casey and Charl Schwartzel on a day that started nasty and ended with 39 players breaking par. The biggest question after a long day on the links was what was in store for Friday, when high wind and occasional showers were in the forecast.

"I thought today's round was extremely important, as they all are," Spieth said, atop the leaderboard at a major for the first time since last year's Masters. "But given the forecast coming in, I thought you really needed to be in the red today. You can certainly make up ground in a round tomorrow, and we'll see it happen. But being able to kind of play with shots, or play a little more conservative because you don't try to do too much on a day like tomorrow, that's nice and very helpful."

Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy fall into that category.

Johnson, the No. 1 player who hasn't played the weekend at a major since the British Open last year, managed only one birdie on a decent day for scoring and shot 71. McIlroy also shot 71 and was relieved. Coming off three missed cuts in his last four events, he was 5 over through six holes when his caddie gave him a pep talk. McIlroy closed with three birdies over the last four holes to stay in the game.

Phil Mickelson failed to make a birdie, the first time that has happened in a major in five years, and shot 73.

Kuchar was the only one at 65 who played in the afternoon. The wind remained strong, though the course was manageable for everyone who stayed out of bunkers and deep grass and who holed putts.

"I watched some of the golf this morning on TV. It looked awfully challenging," Kuchar said. "It looked like anything under par was going to be a good score. Seemed like the later your tee time, the better draw you got. ... For me, to start my British Open with a 29 on the front nine is a great way to start."

Charley Hoffman had the best start of all, holing out from the rough on the daunting opening hole for an eagle. He was poised to join the leaders when he reached 5 under with a birdie on the 15th, only to drop shots on the next two holes. Hoffman shot 69 and was in a group that included Ian Poulter and Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Defending champion Henrik Stenson, who played with Spieth, had a 71. Stenson also played with Spieth the first two rounds of the 2015 Masters that the Texan won wire-to-wire and knew what to expect.

"He was rolling it superbly that week, and I don't think it was that far behind today," Stenson said.

But his best shot was with his feet in the sand. Spieth was in thick rough to the right of the 16th fairway when his shot crept into the back of a pot bunker. Not only was the ball on a slight slope, the rake marks left his ball between two ridges.

"This is dangerous," he said to his caddie.

He aimed to the right of the hole to avoid it going off the green on the other side and into another bunker, and it came off perfectly about 10 feet away.

"That was awesome," were his next words to his caddie.

He made the par putt - Spieth made a lot of putts on picked up a two-putt birdie on the 17th and narrowly missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the last. It was his best start in a major since he shot 66 at the Masters a year ago. Spieth rated it among the top five or six rounds he has ever played in a major, not bad for someone who came close to the Grand Slam two years ago.

"I couldn't have done much better today," he said.

Royal Birkdale was much more kind than it was nine years ago in raging wind and rain. The 146th Open began in cool temperatures, a light rain and a strong wind. Mark O'Meara, a winner at Royal Birkdale in 1998 who is playing in his last British Open, hit the opening tee shot.

And then he hit another one.

O'Meara's first shot was lost in the gorse, he made a quadruple-bogey 8 and was on his way to an 81. His threesome required 18 shots to play that hole. But the weather settled down a few hours later, and the scorecards filled up with plenty of birdies and eagles.

Just not for McIlroy until late in the round, or Johnson and Mickelson all day.

"With the weather we're expecting tomorrow, I still feel I'm in the golf tournament," McIlroy said. "If I can go out and play a good, quality round of golf in the morning and try to get in the clubhouse somewhere around even par, under par, I'll still be around for the weekend."