It was supposed to be Tony Boselli's homecoming game, but that will have to wait until next season, if there is to be a next season for the former Jaguars star offensive tackle.
The Houston Texans placed Boselli on the injured reserve list last week, effectively ending any chance of Boselli returning to action this season. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Texans, who assumed $9 million of Boselli amortization from the Jaguars when the Texans made Boselli the first pick of last year's expansion draft. All of a sudden, the sterling image of the Texans is looking a bit soiled.
How could they make such a mistake? How could they draft a player who was coming off double shoulder surgery, and relieve one of their three division foes of a salary cap burden that would've crippled the Jaguars salary cap for years?
They are questions the Texans have found difficult to answer. They'll be happy to put the issue behind them and get on with the job of transforming an expansion team into a division title contender.
This Sunday, the Texans (1-5) face the Jaguars at Alltel Stadium in an AFC South game of great importance for the Jaguars. For the Texans, every game is about the future.
"The guys on this team all believe the same thing, and that's if you work hard enough you're going to get better," rookie quarterback David Carr said. "We have a good group that believes it can improve every week."
Carr is the headline player for the Texans' future, and the first pick of the draft has given every indication he's destined to become one of the league's star quarterbacks. His statistics this season may not say that, but judge for yourself this week. The kid can play.
Head coach Dom Capers is building the Texans in much the same manner Capers put the expansion Carolina Panthers together. The emphasis in Houston has been on defense, as Carr and a young offense develop. In Carolina, it was a veteran defense and a rookie quarterback named Kerry Collins.
Former Jaguars defensive tackles Gary Walker and Seth Payne are the foundation on which Capers, the Jaguars' defensive coordinator in the 1999 and 2000 seasons, is building his Houston defense. Walker and Payne have helped Houston remain in the middle of the NFL's defensive rankings.
"We've got some guys in here who are used to winning," Payne said. "It doesn't matter what other people expect of us. To talk about the expansion thing is a crutch, an excuse. All I know is it's been a month now since we had that feeling on a Monday morning; the feeling you get after a win. I won't be satisfied until we get it back."
The Texans offense came to life in a 31-24, week-six loss to Buffalo, but the defense blew a 14-point lead late in the game.
"Our offense came out and gave us the greatest performance they have all year. When they come out like that, our defense is going to have to rise up," Walker said.
Capers knows it's going to take time to make the Texans division title contenders, and Boselli's inability to play isn't helping matters. He's a $7.25 million burden on the Texans' salary cap this year, which isn't a big deal because the Texans have so much room, but Boselli could begin representing significant "dead" money in '03 and '04 when the cap will become an issue for the big-spending Texans.
The Texans have offensive tackle Ryan Young back, and that'll certainly help the league's lowest-ranked offense, but following a rousing victory over Dallas in the Texans' inaugural game, this season has settled into the kind of countdown reserved for expansion teams.
It didn't look that way on the day of the expansion draft.