Case Keenum left his tree perch and his hunt for white-tailed deer nearly a decade ago, putting away his bow and arrow and taking up a football.
The former University of Houston standout quarterback outdueled Joe Flacco on Dec. 21, 2014, in a victory over the Baltimore Ravens as Flacco was intercepted three times and Keenum delivered a steady performance and outdueled the Super Bowl-winning passer for the first win of his NFL career with help from J.J. Watt and Arian Foster.
In nine years, Keenum and Flacco will square off once more. A crucial football game will be played on Sunday at NRG Stadium. Instead of the anticipated marquee showdown between C.J. Stroud and Deshaun Watson, it’s a matchup between two older quarterbacks with lots of experience.
Keenum, 35, leads the 8-6 Texans, who won in overtime over the Tennessee Titans last week when Stroud was out with a concussion. Flacco, 38, is having a career resurgence for the 9-6 Browns, passing for 374 yards last week in a win against the Chicago Bears. He has 939 yards, seven touchdowns, and five interceptions since being plucked off the bench in New Jersey and taking over for an ailing Watson.
“We’ve all changed just a little bit since the last time I was here, yeah,” Keenum went on to say. “I’ve got this little gray here that tends to creep in.”It’s surreal at times, but it’s also thrilling. It’s fantastic. I enjoy representing Houston whenever I have the opportunity.”
The Texans defeated the Tennessee Titans in overtime, 19-16. He scored once and passed for 229 yards, with one interception returned for a score. In overtime, he also scrambled to toss a ball to running back Devin “Motor” Singletary for a 41-yard catch-and-run, setting up kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn’s game-winning 54-yard field goal.
Keenum will now lead the Texans in a game with significant playoff implications. The Texans are presently seventh in the AFC playoff standings, one spot behind the Indianapolis Colts, whom they defeated earlier this season and will face again in the regular-season finale in January.
Keenum previously played for Browns coach Kevin Stefanski with the Minnesota Vikings in 2020 and 2021.
Keenum has previously played for seven different NFL teams.
“The chances of me playing against an old team are a little higher than most people because I have a lot of old teams,” Keenum stated in a statement. “So, I have had to answer this a bunch because I played a lot of my old teams in the past.”
Keenum showed knowledge, accuracy, and confidence against the Titans.
He overcome a 13-0 deficit by completing 23 of 36 throws. Since 2014, he has gone 3-0 in starts with the Texans. He’s won his last three starts, including two for the Browns in 2021.
This week’s opponent is arguably more difficult than the Titans.
The Browns boast the best pass defense in the NFL, allowing only 158.9 yards per game. Keenum has his work cut out for him with the presence of great defensive end Myles Garrett and a talented cornerback trio comprised of Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II, and Martin Emerson.
Garrett, a former first-round choice out of Texas A&M, has 13 sacks.
“Myles is one of the top rushers, one of the top defensive ends in this league,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “Everyone recognizes him as one of the best players.” Every year he’s been in the league, he’s been a problem. We certainly have our hands full. How do you deal with him?
“That’s the key for anyone who opposes him.” How do you deal with such a great player? They also do an excellent job of moving him around so that he is not always on the brink. Myles is a fantastic player, a true generational talent who has accomplished much in the NBA.”
And, despite his advanced age, Flacco is a former Super Bowl MVP with the Ravens and a former first-round selection pick.
“He can still throw a really nice deep ball,” said Texans defensive coordinator Matt Burke. “You saw some of those last week, all their explosives.” I mean, his move is so smooth, yet he can still sling it.
And, obviously, he has all of the world’s experience in terms of operating and running the system, viewing coverages, and all of that. It comes as no surprise to me that he was able to just slide in. Obviously, he’s had some success at this point in the season, but I’d say his arm is still all there.”
Despite his advanced age as a professional athlete, Keenum still has plenty of juice. He gave a tough performance with crucial throws.
“Case Money, that’s my guy,” Singletary said of the quarterback who famously orchestrated the ‘Minnesota Miracle’ touchdown pass to Stephon Diggs to help the Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints in a playoff game. “That demonstrates the type of guy he is. It’s difficult to keep prepared to play, and sometimes you don’t, but when your turn comes, you answer the bell. It says a lot about the kind of guy he is.”
A former undrafted free agent who joined the Texans and went 2-0 as Fitzpatrick’s replacement has gone 3-0 in his past three starts for the team since 2014.
“Case Keenum has been getting it done,” said Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil. “Ain’t no surprise to me.”
Keenum put in a solid effort, completing one touchdown pass to wide receiver Noah Brown and overcoming an early turnover.
“I’m built for this,” said Keenum. “I’ve been in a lot of different situations. I’ve worked in a variety of systems and played a variety of games. And God created me for this, for moments like this. And I’m simply making sure I’m ready when my number is called. You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready, as I already stated.”
Keenum recovered from his turnover and a rough first half in which he completed 11 of 17 passes for 83 yards and a 51.8 passer rating. Keenum, who broke NCAA passing records with the Coogs, has also played for the Rams, Texans, Vikings, Denver Broncos, Washington franchise, Browns (for whom quarterback last started in a game in January 2022), and Buffalo Bills.
The Brownwood native has played under everyone from Gary Kubiak to Bill O’Brien and Ryans, and last offseason he signed a two-year, $6.25 million contract.
He’ll be back in action for the Texans in December for another big game.
“Games that matter in December are awesome,” Keenum said. “That’s why last week was so incredible; it mattered.” This makes this week even more important. We’ll be concerned about next week, next week. It’s postseason football against a postseason team. That is essentially how we see things.”