John McClain: Smith says Texans had no interest in losing, despite draft status. Now what does the future hold?

Mandatory Credit: Photo by AJ Mast/AP/Shutterstock (13702372ef) Houston Texans tight end Jordan Akins reacts after scoring on a 28-yard touchdown pass during the second half of an NFL football game between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, in Indianapolis Texans Colts Football, Indianapolis, United States – 08 Jan 2023

John McClain: Smith says Texans had no interest in losing, despite draft status. Now what does the future hold?

Rather than roll over and play dead like they did in last week’s 28-point loss to Jacksonville, the Texans muscled up and did something just about every fan feared – they won their last game at Indianapolis to blow the first overall pick in the draft.

In what’s expected to be Lovie Smith’s last game as their coach, the Texans blew a pair of 10-point leads against the Colts but escaped Lucas Oil Stadium with a 32-31 victory that gave them the second pick in the draft behind Chicago.

Depending on your point of view, the Texans saved their worst for last. Down 31-24 with 3:29 left in a game they needed to lose to get the first pick in the draft for the fourth time in franchise history, the Texans rallied behind the late-game heroics of quarterback Davis Mills and tight end Jordan Akins.

Mills engineered an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with his 28-yard touchdown pass to Akins on third-and-20. Instead of kicking the extra point and risk overtime for the second time against the Colts, Smith went for it. Mills and Akins collaborated again to pull out the victory that gave them a 3-2-1 record in the AFC South.

Smith didn’t want to hear anything about losing to clinch the first pick. He and his coaches and players went all in on beating the Colts.

No way he would even hint to his players the Texans should lose.

“You play to win the game,” he said. “All you’ve been working for all your lives – play to win – forget that? Lose the game on purpose? That would be a hard one to get by (them). They wouldn’t expect me to say that. And I didn’t. Each week, our game plan has been to win the game. That’s what we followed through on today.

“We understand what our win total is, and it’s not enough. That wasn’t part of the plan. That’s how it goes sometimes. We wanted to leave the season with a good taste in our mouths. To do it that way, when you have to scratch and claw – we lost a few games at the end – it was good to see the guys finish this one.”

After Akins’ touchdown catch and 2-point reception, the Texans left 50 seconds on the clock, and the game didn’t end until quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw an incompletion from his 46 with no time remaining.

“I held my breath until the end, and then I exhaled there,” Smith said. “It’s about making plays in the fourth quarter. To finish like that is a sign of growth and heading in the right direction.”

The Texans went in the wrong direction this season. They were expected to improve on last season’s 4-13 record, but they didn’t. They fashioned a 3-13-1 record in Smith’s first season as head coach, but winning two of his last three games isn’t expected to be enough to save his job.

Like David Culley, Smith is expected to be a one-and-done coach. By the time Nick Caserio and the McNair family hire his replacement, the Texans will have employed five coaches in four years – Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel (interim), Culley, and Smith.

“Do I expect to be back, yeah, I expect to be back – absolutely,” Smith said. “No need for hypotheticals. I can’t get into those. (Do) I expect to? Yes. They are reports (about his firing). I don’t know what the reports are. I meet with Cal (McNair) every Monday. We talk about what’s happened the last game. We understand the totality of the season and what’s going on.

“Cal and I have been talking quite a bit. Nick and I have been talking quite a bit. We normally talk on Mondays. I assume we’re going to talk on Monday again. Part of our routine for (Monday) will be (player) exit (interviews) and medical (exams) and go from there.”

For Texans’ fans, all the news Sunday wasn’t bad. Cleveland lost at Pittsburgh to finish 7-10. The Texans own Browns’ picks in the first and third rounds because of the Deshaun Watson trade.

Everyone knows the Texans will be desperate to draft a franchise quarterback. Alabama’s Bruce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are the best prospects. With more than three months remaining in the evaluation process, both are expected to be worthy of becoming the first pick in the draft.

Because Justin Fields is supposed to be their franchise quarterback, the Bears shouldn’t be in the market. They could select one of the top-two non-quarterback prospects – Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. or Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter – with the first pick. Or they could trade down with the quarterback-needy team that offers them the best deal. That could be the Texans. Or Caserio can stay at two and take Young or Stroud – whoever’s still available.

From now until the draft in late April, it’ll be up to Caserio to find a way to leak enough information to convince everyone he wants the quarterback he doesn’t covet so the one he really wants falls into his lap.

A new coach will have the luxury of a lot of draft choices and cap room – something Smith and Culley weren’t able to enjoy during the rebuild the McNair family entrusted to Caserio.

Caserio doesn’t want to trade a pick or two or three to swap spots with Chicago. The Texans have 11 draft choices, including two in the first round and five in the first three rounds. He’s stockpiled 10 in the 2024 draft, including the last of three first-round picks he acquired in the Watson trade.

Meanwhile, Smith and his coaches will go about their end-of-season business and wait for a decision on his job situation – something they have no control over.

“We haven’t played as well or coached as well (as expected),” Smith said. “I think there’s time to talk over all that.”

And time is running out.

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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