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It’s not totally fair, but Bill O’Brien is branded with this loss now

It’s not going to matter.

You could spit out all sorts of facts about how Bill O’Brien has been a good coach for the Texans since taking the job in 2014 — and we will.

You could also point out that a tidal wave of a comeback by the Kansas City Chiefs was as predictable as Andy Reid looking confused during a shocking playoff deficit — and we will.

But here’s the undeniable fact: Nothing short of a Super Bowl appearance next season for O’Brien and the Texans — if he keeps his job — will wash away the stench of Sunday’s epic 51-31 loss to the Chiefs in an AFC Divisional playoff game.

Wherever he goes, even among friends when he makes his annual summer pilgrimage to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, people will always see 24-0 and 51-7 permanently stamped on O’Brien’s forehead. In fact, they should just incorporate it into the Texans’ logo. If the Texans make it to a Super Bowl, then it’s all wiped clean.

Yeah, good luck with that. The Texans have never advanced beyond the divisional round (Sunday makes them 0-4 there), even with some pretty darn good teams.

O’Brien’s reputation is never going to get past this, definitely not in Houston where most fans are already sick of his teams that always seem to let them down in the end. And it may delay his chances at a second job, whenever that may come.

It’s too bad. I think O’Brien is a good coach, especially in today’s game where not many future Hall of Fame head coaches are roaming the sidelines beyond Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Pete Carroll. Would you prefer O’Brien or Mike Tomlin? Say what you want, but O’Brien has delivered division championships and playoff berths in four of his last five seasons. Yes, I know it’s the AFC South. Still …

Plus, he has helped turn the tide in personnel since wresting power away from former GM Rick Smith heading into the 2018 offseason. And after winning with journeymen quarterbacks, O’Brien, the Patriots’ former offensive coordinator, finally has a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson who has improved and has his coach’s back.

“There’s no doubt,” Watson said after the game when asked if O’Brien is the right coach for the Texans. “I mean, you might have doubt, but there’s no doubt. I mean, I love that man. I’m going to play hard for that man. … He’s got my heart. He’s going to get all of my 110 percent every time I step on that field. So y’all can say whatever, but [I’ll] always be rooting for that man and going to play hard for him.”

And, if you wanted to, Sunday’s stunning result can be somewhat (I said somewhat) explained away — except for one inexplicable decision that rivals anything John Harbaugh did on Saturday night.

Yes, the Texans took a 24-0 lead and wound up blowing it. But it’s not like the Texans jumped out due to some brilliant game-planning by O’Brien. The Chiefs were obviously rusty after the bye week (must be an AFC thing), with a blown coverage for a touchdown, a blocked punt for a touchdown and a fumbled kickoff that led to a touchdown.

The Chiefs had messed up, and you knew they weren’t going down like that at home. Plus, this was the same Kansas City team that last season trailed the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots — who are way better than these Texans — 24-9 at halftime in the regular season … and put up 31 points in the second half of 43-40 loss; and trailed 17-7 at home in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots after three quarters and scored 24 points in the fourth quarter in the 37-31 overtime loss.

About that boneheaded mistake…

After wisely pushing the lead to 24-0 with a field goal instead of going for it on 4th-and-1 from the Kansas City 13-yard line with two-and-a-half quarters left, O’Brien ruined everything to that point when he ordered a fake punt that failed on 4th-and-4 from Houston’s own 31-yard line leading 24-7.

Four plays later, the Chiefs made it 24-14 and O’Brien was on his way to becoming the coach of the first NFL team to have a 24-0 lead and trail at halftime. Kansas City outscored Houston 44-7 after the fake punt.

“We felt like we had to try to manufacture some points, manufacture some yards,” O’Brien said. “It just didn’t work out. It was something we decided to do, but the play didn’t work.”

O’Brien should not have poked the bear. He just should have punted, played defense and taken his chances. He gave the Chiefs a gift that got Arrowhead Stadium rocking.

But O’Brien wasn’t wrong to know the game was far from over at 24-0. He just chose the wrong time to throw a curveball.

No one will want to hear that, certainly not in Houston and not in any other NFL outpost where their team was probably watching the game on vacation. All anyone will want to talk about is how bad a coach O’Brien is, and how he should be fired.

That’s not really fair, but that’s what he has to live with for the rest of his coaching career after 24-0 and 51-7.

Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at gbedard@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.

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