Vandermeer's View: Plenty at stake in final preseason game

There's a lot more on the line when Dallas visits for preseason game four than you might think. Yes, it doesn't count in the standings. But if you zoom in, you'll find that the story lines are deep and dramatic.

With the 90-man roster getting cut to 53 by Saturday, you'll see a combined 70 players getting released between the two clubs. Some will go on the practice squads, some will go to other teams. Others will once again try out for the NFL, or the Spring leagues. But many of tonight's participants are playing football, of any kind, for the last time. They've been putting on the pads since they were kids. Thursday night, that dream might die.

I've called this game 'NFL Idol' before because it's the final real audition for the league in 2018. It's the last chance to put some positive play on record before waiting for a life-changing phone call. The GMs, coaches and scouts are sitting in their chairs critiquing performances like Simon Cowell (without the British accent).

For all we know, Bill O'Brien and Brian Gaine have their minds made up about the roster. But just maybe there's a performance or two that can be a foot in the door to create a spot for one of the bubble players.

Historically, there were several game preseason game four moments for this franchise that stand out in my memory.

In 2002, the expansion Texans hosted Tampa Bay. David Carr started the game, as the offense needed work, and had to leave in the second quarter with a bruised knee. He would return the following week to beat Dallas in the franchise opener. But it was a hold-your-breath moment at the time.

In 2005, Carr and the starting offense were summoned to play game four at Tampa Bay to try to get some rhythm. It didn't work. Carr went 1-5 and the offense sputtered all year, on their way to a shocking 2-14 record.

In 2009, back-up quarterback Dan Orlovsky got the start, but Rex Grossman came in and threw for almost 200 yards and two touchdowns to steal the back-up job. At the time, it was a significant story.

In 2013, Case Keenum started at Dallas as the Texans won in a rout. Weeks later he leap-frogged T.J. Yates and Matt Schaub to start eight games.

And in 2015, Tom Savage got the start but had to leave the game, and the season, in the second half with a shoulder injury. Savage would have undoubtedly played that year, with all the happened in the Ryan Mallett-Brian Hoyer saga.

The mere sight of the Cowboy uniform in the building stirs up emotions. With the two teams meeting week five, it's good that this is preseason game four and the front-liners won't reveal anything they'll unleash on October 7.

Thursday is all about you watching the game you love while the men on the field fight for a chance to continue playing it.

The Texans invited two families from the United Way who were affected by Hurricane Harvey to watch practice and receive autographs from players.

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