Texans coach Gary Kubiak heard about the growing crowd of crazed fans lineup on Kirby and around Reliant Stadium before the team plane even touched down from Cincinnati on Sunday night.
It was one thing to hear about. It was an entirely different deal to see and feel the warm reception awaiting the Texans after they locked up the franchises’ first AFC South title and playoff berth with Sunday’s 20-19 win over the Bengals. This had been 10 years in the making and the fans who had suffered for so long came out to celebrate the momentous occasion.
“It means a great deal for the bus to pull down Kirby last night and see all the people that came out,” Kubiak said Monday. “A lot of the players spent a lot of time with them after we got here. A lot of our families were sitting here in the parking lot waiting on us. That’s what you work for. That’s why we’ve been doing what we’ve been doing so that everybody can experience that.”
There were a lot of pats on that back that night and they continued Monday.
“It’s been a great day,” said Kubiak, whose team moved to 10-3 and have extended its winning streak to seven straight to remain one of the hottest teams in the NFL. “It’s been a great day really just to watch the people around the office because there are so many people involved with our work. For coaches today is no different than any other day but just to watch everybody here at the office and hear what yesterday meant to them and they are so excited. I’m happy for all of them.”
You have to think the day was made even sweeter by the perfect storm that delivered the Texans into the playoffs a week earlier than expected. Not only did they have to win to make it happen but the Tennessee Titans aka team formerly known as the Houston Oilers had to lose.
This town has been waiting for a winner in football since Bud Adams pulled up stakes on headed to Nashville. It took the Texans longer than any other expansion team since the merger to do so. But they are here now so who’s counting?
And the kid who is fond of saying he grew up just five miles down the road is at the helm of it all.
“It’s special to see that excitement,” said Kubiak, a native Houstonian. “I know the hard work that’s been put in and the job that the coaches, players and this organization has done.
“To walk around this building today and see how proud everyone is that works here and is a part of this organization. It was a great day. But we still have a lot to look forward to and still got a lot of work to do. So we’ve got to focus on that right now.”
The Texans have to turn their attention to something greater like the possibility of home field advantage, if not throughout the playoffs, at least through some of it. If you thought Reliant Stadium was over the top last week against Atlanta, imagine a playoff atmosphere.
You have to believe when you consider the Texans finish the season with three winnable games against Carolina, Indianapolis and Tennessee which would put them at an impressive 13-3 with 10 straight victories.
But to do so the Texans have some work to do. We saw that Sunday when at times in the first half it seemed the team that hasn’t made the next man up a mantra was out of options. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates looked like a rookie fifth round draft pick who had never seen a true blitz. Then there was the fumble in the red zone by running back Ben Tate and the dropped passes by receivers.
The Texans didn’t resemble the team that had strung together six straight games, despite losing key starters left and right.
But the Texans got their act together in the second half, stringing together just enough plays to seal the come-from-behind road win when Yates fired a six-yard bullet to Kevin Walter for a the touchdown and Neil Rackers converted the extra pointing in the final moments.
The Texans celebrated the accomplishment and what it meant but in the back of his mind the coach in Kubiak was still wondering what happened in that first half. He’s still searching for why it happened and one of the reasons he has come up with is the team had already started looking ahead before the game was played.
“I think they sense it,” Kubiak said of the possibility of clinching a playoff spot Sunday. “I think that is why we played kind of poorly yesterday in the first half. They were thinking about what could happen, what we could get done that day and they forgot to go play the way we’ve been playing. It took us a little while to get focused and fortunately we did.”
You better believe the focus now will be on preventing any lapses with what is still at stake. Kubiak and his staff have been breaking down film since early Monday morning. Expendable veteran receiver Derrick Mason, who dropped a couple of passes during Sunday’s game, was shown the door Monday perhaps to clear room for special teams depth or more likely to send a message about remaining focused.
“I really don’t think we will have a problem for a couple of reasons,” Kubiak said. “First I know we are going to look at the film and be very disappointed in our first half as a football team. We talked about that after the game before we talked about winning our division.
“I think we have had so many issues on our team that our depth is such that we have got to keep getting familiar with each other and playing with each other and getting better as a group.
“It’s not like we have been etched in stone all year and haven’t had injury problems, haven’t had issues where we know who is going to be there three weeks from now,” he continued. “We have to keep finding a way to keep getting better three weeks from now. We should have a lot of confidence but we should also understand what we need to get done.”