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The inclination is to feel good about the Texans and their first round playoff chances.
At worst case scenario, they have an even draw with Cincinnati – a team they beat on the road four weeks ago – coming into Reliant Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The odds should tip in the Texans favor because they will be at home and the stadium will be rocking with loud and passionate fans who’ve waited 10 years for this opportunity.
But somewhere in the backs of our minds we have to be worried. The pink elephant jumping up and down in the room is that the Texans haven’t played well in four weeks. Even if you try to dismiss Sunday’s 23-22 loss to Tennessee as a push because the starters only played limited snaps, there has to be concern the Texans are entering the postseason on a three-game losing streak.
Heck we could be looking at a four-game losing streak were it not for the miraculous late fourth-quarterback comeback against Cincinnati engineered by rookie quarterback T.J. Yates.
Clearly the Texans aren’t played their best football as coach Gary Kubiak said a month ago they would need to be at this point in the season. But since they aren’t, the only thing Kubiak is left to work with is to pretend these last four weeks didn’t really happen.
“Well, you’ve got to let it go,” Kubiak said Monday when I asked how does his team overcome not playing their best football heading into the playoffs. “You could come in with a three game winning streak and you’ve got to let it go too. No, you’re right. We haven’t been at our best in all three phases, but I did think we took a step in the right direction yesterday.
“We’ve had a ton of adjustments to make over the course of the last four, five, six weeks with our football team and what has been going on. Through those adjustments we’ve handled some of them very well and found a way to get some things done and then at times we haven’t. We’ve lost two very close football games the last two weeks that we could easily have won. It’s time to go win one like that and we’ve got to let everything go and start over.
“I liked our mindset after the game. I liked the player’s mindset,” Kubiak continued. “They understand what we are fixing to face, so we need a good week of work and to get ready to go play.”
On the surface that sounds easy enough, but you have to wonder if that is enough to win in the postseason.
This season’s team has been the billboard for resilience, overcoming injuries that would have derailed a lot better teams. Still something has been off and it has prevented the Texans from winning three straight games against teams that are not in the playoffs.
Much of the blame has been heaped on Yates, who up until early last month had never even suited up for an NFL game much less played in one. Yates has been both erratic and indecisive these past few weeks just as you would expect any former third stringer pressed into duty to be.
But when he exited Sunday’s game after having his left non-throwing shoulder separated on the first play of the game, we quickly realized the youngster is more the answer than veteran newcomer Jake Delhomme. So there should be a sigh of relief from Monday’s news that Yates will be the starter Saturday.
We had a chance to get excited about him again Sunday when he led the offense on an impressive 13-play, 90-yard scoring drive in his only series of the afternoon.
“He was really sharp early in the game, continues to do good stuff, as I’ve told ya’ll,” Kubiak said. “He is very young and this is a big, big game, but he’s the best guy for our football team and if he is able to go and do the things that we need him to do in practice, then we will turn him loose and let him go.”
But as has been the case since he took over for backup Matt Leinart in the Jacksonville game, Yates will need the help of his entire team to be successful. Having star receiver Andre Johnson back full strength is a big plus, but running back Arian Foster will have to run even harder than he normally runs and the offensive line will need to hold their blocks a little bit longer.
If there is a saving grace, it’s that the Texans are facing a Cincinnati team they beat four weeks ago. But then we also have to remember the Bengals gave the Texans the body shots that began the collapse of an impressive winning streak.
In the first half, the Texans looked worse than they had at any point, committing critical turnovers on offense and breaking down on defense. It was a miracle the Texans turned it around in the second half and pulled out the victory that guaranteed the franchise its first AFC South title and playoff berth.
“I can say we were sloppy, but you got to give them some credit. They’re darn good,” Kubiak said. “They made us play sloppy. They hit us on the mouth on the 1-yard line, knocked the ball out, made us turn the ball over from an interception standpoint, knocked the ball out on Arian.
“When I go back and look at that film, late last night with them, to me, we can sit here and say we didn’t do things well but you got to give them credit for how poorly they made us play by their effort.”
We didn’t know it then but it was the beginning of a rocky ending to the regular season.
Now, Kubiak not only has to get his team to forget the last month but he also has to prepare them for intensity needle to move quite considerably. The Texans have only a handful of players, like defensive end Antonio Smith, who’ve experienced what the playoffs are like.
Kubiak has been in six playoff games as either a player or assistant coach with the Denver Broncos but this will be his first go as a head coach.
“You can talk about it all you want, but they have to go experience it,” Kubiak said. “They’ll see the energy; they’ll see the difference in the speed of play and the energy when they show up on Saturday.
“We’ve got a few guys that can talk to them about it. Antonio got it started right after the game when he talked to the team yesterday but they’ll see the energy build this week. They’ll see what it’s all about and like I said it won’t take them long, probably two or three plays on Saturday, to see that the tempo just went up. But it’s time to get some experience and this is where we want to go as an organization and playing games like this, win a championship Sunday, we have to learn to do this.”