HOUSTON -- As their postseason hopes drift away toward the horizon, both the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans are facing the same challenge relative to those playoff aspirations: Attempt to fashion a late-season revival with a backup quarterback at the controls.
For the Texans (3-6), who will host Arizona on Sunday at NRG Stadium, that means salvaging something positive from the unsightly performances of Tom Savage. Houston fell to 0-3 with Savage as the starter last Sunday, when he committed four turnovers in a 33-7 loss to the Rams.
The struggles for Savage have been myriad, from his inaccuracy (47.3 completion percentage) to his inability to challenge defenses downfield. Savage is averaging 4.9 adjusted yards per attempt, well off the top-five pace Deshaun Watson established (8.4) before his knee injury.
But the turnovers in Los Angeles added a new dimension of ineptitude for the Savage-led offense. His first interception was especially debilitating, with the Texans leading 7-6 late in the first half and in the red zone poised to extend their lead. The Rams seized momentum, turning that Savage miscue into a field goal just before the break and a lead they would not relinquish.
"I think those types of things, in terms of upper body mechanics and where the ball is in terms of in his carriage, and doing that type of thing, you can always work on it," Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan said. "You can always work on it, correct it. I think it's going to be an emphasis of the week. We always do a little bit of it pre-practice, but I think when you're coming off a game where it was an issue, you certainly concentrate a little bit more on drills, you talk about it. So, you can always correct those things."
Credit Savage for being aware of the mounting criticism of his play. With the Texans two games behind the Buffalo Bills for the second wild card in the AFC, with four teams ahead of them in the standings in pursuit of the Bills, the last thing the Texans need are empty promises.
Following his poor showing in a home loss to the Colts, Savage pledged to be better. He wasn't against the Rams, leaving him little choice but to continue to look ahead to better days.
"At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter what I say right now or how I view this upcoming week," Savage said. "The only thing that really matters is just winning, and that's it. I can sit here and tell you all day that I want to throw 75 percent or I feel like I'm getting better -- that doesn't matter. No one cares about any of that stuff. What matters is winning, and that's what we're going to try to do this weekend."
With starter Carson Palmer sidelined with a broken left arm and his backup, Drew Stanton, doubtful after suffering a knee strain last Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals (4-5) are likely to start third-stringer Blaine Gabbert under center, the same Gabbert who flamed out as a first-round pick with the Jacksonville Jaguars and later in San Francisco.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians defended Gabbert when questioned about his past ineffectiveness, blaming in part the losing organizations that employed Gabbert. While Stanton showed unexpected progress from his injury, Gabbert took the first-team reps on Wednesday, leaving Arians in position to lavish praise on a quarterback who failed elsewhere -- twice.
"He can really spin it," Arians said. "He's not been in the offense as long as Drew but he's a very bright guy. We'll tailor it to where he's comfortable when he goes out on the field. He's very athletic and it would be fun watching him play."
Like Houston, the Cardinals are two games out of the final playoff spot in the NFC. Unlike the Texans, there are five teams between Arizona and Seattle, which occupies the second wild card. Injuries have played a role in both teams' troubles and the long odds they face.
"Well, you know they're going to happen, you just hope they don't happen to as many of your star players as both of us have lost," Arians said. "But they're not throwing pity parties in any other city for you. You've got to line up and play and give your guys a chance to have a game plan that they can execute and win with.