HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – We’ve been down this path before.
For the second consecutive year, the Texans hit the road for the AFC divisional round against a team that was better than them. And they lost.
But this one was MUCH more frustrating.
Last year’s 20-13 loss in Baltimore was no big deal. Of course T.J. Yates was going to throw three interceptions. And obviously Jacoby Jones would do what Jacoby did best. We knew this young team would have a tough time beating the the veteran Ravens on the road.
Still, you could take pride knowing this out-manned unit out-physicaled the Ravens – who were considered by many to be the NFL’s toughest team.
What a difference a year makes. Because this 41-28 loss to the Patriots feels like the funeral to a one year window of Texan dominance.
We all told ourselves this season would be different. If a team starting a rookie third-string quarterback could come within a point of the AFC Championship, couldn’t that same team – this time with Matt Schaub under center – kick down the door to the Super Bowl?
The answer is a simple punch to the groin. No.
And from the look of things, this group might never be able to. Because they’re limited by the very same guy we wrongly believed was the key to taking the next big step.
Sure this was the greatest season in franchise history. An 11-1 start and 12 win season is nothing to sneer at.
But the 2-4 finish with a blown chance at home field advantage in its midst? Nauseating, plagued by dumb penalties and red zone impotence. And with the same “chess pieces” in place, right now it doesn’t seem like next season will be any more successful.
Don’t tell that to the Texans though.
“It’s right at our fingertips man,” said tight end Owen Daniels. “We’ve got a lot of great young players. A bunch of great leaders. This is not going to be a team that you see fade away.”
“We’ve got the guys right here in this locker room to get the job done,” said cornerback Johnathan Joseph. “We got the job done all year long to win 13 ball games. There’s a lot of teams out there that win three, four ball games. Of course we’ve got the guys in the locker room capable of doing it. But it’s just about doing it all the time.”
“I don’t have any doubt that the Houston Texans will win a championship,” said head coach Gary Kubiak. “We’ll get over this and we’ll go back to work, and I think the future’s very bright.”
Sorry Kubes, but I have to be the raincloud of doom here. With Matt Schaub at quarterback, the divisional round and done is likely as bright as it’s going to get.
To be fair, this loss isn’t all on Schaub. First consider all the breaks the Texans were unable to take advantage of:
1.) The early injuries to Patriot play-makers Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead
2.) A questionable personal foul call on Brandon Lloyd that stalled a Patriots drive deep in Texans territory
3.) An Owen Daniels fumble overturned by “forward progress”
And his receivers had some bad drops – the worst being James Casey letting a sure touchdown slip through his hands. Fair or unfair, quarterbacks will always be under the microscope.
“People fail to realize you’re not [always] going to be perfect,” said Andre Johnson. “Sometimes you’re going to struggle. You come out and have a bad week you got to come back and play better the next week. This game is about responding. I think Matt is very capable of being a great quarterback in this league. It’ll be all about how he responds.”
Unfortunately for the Texans, Schaub couldn’t respond on the big stage after six weeks of sub-par play. Which became all the more disappointing after a weekend that saw Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick, and Matt Ryan silence their critics.
Don’t let Schaub’s gaudy stat-line (34-51, 343 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) fool you. He had some brutal misfires, especially the interception that he threw straight to Rob Ninkovich. He looked completely uncomfortable both in and outside the pocket. And his unforced fumble was only slightly less embarrassing than the “Butt Fumble“.
When you’re going up against Tom Brady, there is only so much your defense can do. And for the second time in two meetings, the Texans made occasional stops. But the offense never capitalized, and the brunt of that blame is on Schaub.
You never know how long a championship window will stay open. And through the first three quarters of this season, the Texans showed they have the talent to be a contender. But with Matt Schaub under contract through 2017 (a decision made earlier this season that has to have Rick Smith, Gary Kubiak and comapny second-guessing themselves), it’s tough to be confident in this team’s ability to win a Super Bowl. Especially with Andrew Luck and the surprisingly un-terrible Colts nipping at Houston’s heels.
I hope I’m proven wrong. But after a month of missed opportunities, the reality is this: The Texans have a championship in “right at their fingertips” the way they have a Super Bowl caliber quarterback “right at their fingertips”.
And that fact won’t change in 2013.