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Join Date: Sep 2010
Great article on the entire season
I know we have threads about this subject but this article is pretty damn good. Actually brought a tear to my eye.
CORPUS CHRISTI — How do you sum up the 2011-12 season that the Houston Texans just completed? My first thought is to point out that it feels like it shouldn’t be over. It feels like we’re simply waiting for their match-up with Tom Brady and the Patriots this Sunday in Foxboro; it doesn’t feel like the Texans lost on Sunday.
For the first time ever, the Texans outplayed the Baltimore Ravens – in their house – and did it soundly. But self-inflicted wounds bleed, too, and the Texans shot themselves with too many rookie mistakes from quarterback T.J. Yates, and one bone-headed play from Jacoby Jones on special teams. Aside from those, the Texans were able to move the ball on the ground and through the air all afternoon, they stymied Ray Rice and Joe Flacco, and they did things no team has ever come into Baltimore and done in a playoff environment. So much went right for the Texans, but they were done in by four turnovers, and that was that.
It felt like the end of Friday Night Lights, when the Permian Panthers came so close to defeating Dallas Carter for the state title. They went on to win it all the next year, but the movie was made about the team that lost. That’s because, in a way, that loss was overshadowed by the larger story, that in the most trying and prohibitive conditions – the most impossible of scenarios – the same team that was being eaten alive by the much larger, much more intimidating foe in the first-half, busted out with a second-half performance that transcended simple winning or losing. They won respect and that can sometimes be more crucial than any single victory or Cinderella story.
The Texans are young and largely under contract. J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed, Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning, Glover Quin, Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin and DeMeco Ryans will return next season. So will defensive coordinator Wade Phillips – so expect that same defense to return next season. If the Texans can re-sign Mario Williams, it’ll only be that much better.
Offensively, the Texans will surely reward Arian Foster for yet another outstanding season, and Ben Tate will come back to spell him in what became the newest 1-2 punch in the league. Matt Schaub’s foot is healing, and he’ll be ready for OTA’s, so the offense will also return. The question mark on offense is what happens behind Andre Johnson? The Texans missed Andre for nine games this season due to hamstring injuries, and it became quickly apparent – even through the wins in his absence – that depth is required at wide receiver. Expect the Texans to focus long and hard at that position in the draft as they try to add a definitive number two option. Jacoby Jones has the talent to be a number two, but not the focus or the consistency. His blunder early in the game, with Houston leading 3-0, helped Baltimore capture a lead they’d never relinquish. There’s too much bust and not enough boom with Jones, who’s five seasons in Houston have been filled with excitement – much of which was the wrong kind. The Texans need a reliable and consistent presence behind Andre and ahead of Kevin Walter to create more attractive options for Matt Schaub. Other than that, though, the Texans really don’t have any glaring holes. For the first time in their 10-year history, it seems like the Texans are indeed one of the most complete and balanced teams in football. Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips are a match made in football Heaven, and the fact that they’re staying together is yet another reason why Texans fans have all the reason in the world to hold their head up high.
But how do you fully explain this season to someone who didn’t follow it, who simply caught the news and scores on ESPN’s bottom line? With Tim Tebow hogging the headlines, even after he was so unceremoniously crushed by New England last Saturday, the story of these Texans has been pushed to the back pages, to the middle of the program, when no one is really watching. That’s media for you – it’s nothing to be bitter about, really, but it does make explaining this stuff to knuckleheads a lot harder. In the end, if you weren’t there, you just wouldn’t understand.
Their story, for me, doesn’t start with Schaub’s broken foot, or Mario Williams’ torn pectoral. It starts with the game in Jacksonville in Week 12, when the Texans trudged on without Schaub and, in a divisional game on the road, lost Matt Leinart less than two quarters into his stint as starting quarterback. We had all spent two weeks analyzing and over-analyzing the transition from Schaub to Leinart. Could Leinart redeem his NFL career? Would Houston’s receivers be able to read a southpaw? Can Leinart keep the ship moving without sinking it?
And then, with a meaningless tackle on a throw away pass with less than two minutes to go in the first half, Matt Leinart’s collarbone was broken and his season was done, and fifth-round pick T.J. Yates, dressed for the first time in his young career, took the field. The Texans won that day, 20-13. It had nothing to do with Yates, really, but his two-minute drill performance in those final first-half minutes showed us that he could sling it. Perhaps it was better that he was thrust into playing the way he was. He had no time to think, no time to consider failure or psyche himself out. He just went out there and relied on muscle memory and instincts.
So much had changed between the wins in Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, but really, nothing had changed. The Texans still leaned on Foster, Tate and the defense. It speaks volumes to the character of the young players and veterans that Houston brought in this past off-season. They defied human nature and didn’t let up. They beat Atlanta the next week behind Yates, the incredibly noisy crowd and the defense, and they went to Cincinnati the next week and erased a 16-3 deficit to win 20-19. That win sent Houston to a franchise-best 10-3 record and the AFC South championship.
The week leading up to the Texans’ wild-card match-up with Cincinnati showed how little the national media regarded Houston’s season. The Texans had lost three in a row to end it, including a Week 16 loss at Indianapolis that caused nearly everyone – even many in Houston – to write them off. The magic was gone, the support was waning.
And then they beat the life out of the Bengals in front of what, I can happily say, was the loudest and most interactive crowd Houston has displayed in years.
The natural order of sports dictates that, every year, we’re due an amazing story of triumph and success out of the ashes of despair and chaos. Usually, the story requires a letdown of sorts. Perhaps the story makes more sense if Houston loses to Atlanta and Cincy, beats Carolina and Indy, and wins an epic showdown with Tennessee on the season’s final day. Instead, the Texans – undaunted by their mounting injuries to seemingly nothing but star players – won every game they could, took all the drama out, won the AFC title in Week 14 and then lost some games. The loss to Indy was a blessing in disguise. It woke them up, it gave them the push they needed and propelled them to prove naysayers wrong – again.
Two times this season – after their Week 14 win in Cincy and after Sunday’s loss to Baltimore – the Texans arrived at Reliant Stadium under the cloak of the night sky, only to be welcomed back by hoards of screaming Texans fans, welcoming home their heroes and thanking them for their effort. One sign at Sunday’s impromptu rally read “YOU DIDN’T GIVE US DISAPPOINTMENT, YOU GAVE US HOPE!”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
I chuckled a little bit on Monday when I mentioned to some NFL-loving colleagues that the Texans have become an elite team, a Super Bowl contender for the foreseeable future and got a series of befuddled looks that made it seem like they were looking at my head changing shapes.
I didn’t base that assessment on one playoff berth; I based it on what’s been set in motion and what’s in place. All season, the Texans have played without stars – Schaub missed the final eight games, Williams missed the final 13, Foster missed the first two weeks, Johnson missed nine games and the majority of their replacements were rookies. Yet they still won, and they did it as a team. They didn’t skip a beat when guys went down like dominos and it speaks to the culture shift in Houston. That’s why they’re contenders – the culture in their locker room says they are. The injury bug bit them several times, but it never deterred them. They didn’t complain, and they didn’t overreact (cough ... Oakland ... cough). They stayed the course and brought in quality character guys in Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia to assist in the swift upbringing of T.J. Yates.
Through it all, T.J. Yates played valiantly and ultimately went down swinging. No one gave the kid a chance, but the team legitimately rallied around him and made it work. He made mistakes, as rookies do, but in a year in which rookie QBs Cam Newton and Andy Dalton made headlines, it was Yates who nearly led his team to the AFC Championship game.
As I said, this season was special and its ending was transcended by its ultimate success. The Texans left Baltimore feeling like they were the better team – and they were. But that argument is dead until next year. The Ravens have a game to play on Sunday, and Houston will be left with the chip on their shoulder. It’s unfortunate – it doesn’t feel like it’s over. But, in the grand scheme of things, it’s far from over. This season proves that. If you weren’t there and if you didn’t watch every second of it, then you wouldn’t understand. But you will.