The worst part of the Texans’ loss on Sunday? The team’s instant irrelevance outside of Houston.
While the failings of the Cowboys can easily fill a swimming pool with national ink (they’ve earned it, what with the Super Bowls on the one hand and the tragicomedy of Jerry on the other), the Texans, having already lost their NFL ingenue status by dropping from the AFC’s top team pre-December to the number three playoff seed, became an instant afterthought the minute they lost 41-28 to New England.
“Houston did little to show it was ready for prime time Sunday,” wrote Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Burke.
The second-worst part? Proving the Boston Globe‘s Dan Shaughnessy right, even if the scoreboard looked a lot better than it did last month, when Tom Brady and the Patriots beat the Texans 42-14.
Burke mentioned Shaughnessy’s dismissal of the Texans as “tomato cans,” and so did Shaughnessy’s former Globe colleague Jackie McMullan of ESPNBoston, who gloated:
So it turns out the New England Patriots’ initial shellacking of the Houston Texans wasn’t a fluke, as their defensive leader J.J. Watt so ardently insisted in advance of Sunday’s divisional playoff game.
And yes, it turns out Watt’s team was nearly as impotent against the Patriots as Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy so famously declared one week ago.
So if the overmatched Matt Schaub is a tomato can, what does that make Tom Brady?
Mixed metaphors aside, there’s no doubt that the Texans got their chins bloodied.
“This is a team that is still not complete enough to rank as a legitimate championship contender and that certainly doesn’t measure up to the Patriots,” wrote ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky, who was not impressed with quarterback Matt Schaub, and second-guessed cornerback Jonathan Joseph, Texans owner Bob McNair, and head coach Gary Kubiak for giving post-game interviews that underplayed how much better the Texans need to be next year.
“To catch and pass the Patriots, they don’t need cosmetic surgery, they need genetic alterations,” Kuharsky wrote.
Even worse, he added, “they could wind up in more of a fight with Indianapolis for the AFC South crown than battling teams like New England for AFC supremacy.”
Closer to home, there wasn’t much more cheer, as fans and writers sorted through the wreckage, vented their emotions, and began to wonder what comes next.
“There was a fever pitch in Houston for this season’s team after the team reached the AFC divisional round in 2012 before losing at Baltimore,” wrote Randy Harvey of the Houston Chronicle. “It’s difficult to remember now what that optimism was based on.”
“For the second consecutive season, the Texans were eliminated in the divisional round because they didn’t make enough plays when they needed them, made too many mistakes at the worst time, failed to take advantage of opportunities, and consistently failed on third down,” wrote the Chronicle‘s John McClain.
McLain’s “report card” for the team was also blistering (as McClain typically is). He handed out an “F” to all three aspects of the defense, and to Kubiak, as well. Schaub managed a “D.” As McLain explained:
Matt Schaub threw for 343 yards. His two touchdown passes came after it was 38-13. He had a costly interception. He couldn’t get the Texans into the end zone until it was too late.
The quarterback is probably still the team’s most polarizing figure, especially since he signed a four-year contract extension prior to this season, and was supposed to get the Texans further than third-stringer T.J. Yates did last year, when Schaub and then-backup Matt Leinart were injured.
Harvey wrote that Kubiak did his part by being less conservative with his offensive play-calls, “but the offense, Schaub in particular, failed to execute.”
“Matt Schaub is just good enough to be frustrating,” is how the Chronicle‘s Jerome Solomon put it, while SI‘s Burke called the QB’s third-quarter interception, which came when the Texans only trailed 24-13, “an awful, awful decision.”
Burke’s Sports Illustrated colleage Don Banks was more generous, noting that Schaub simply needs more weapons than running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson:
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Houston has to locate a stretch-the-field receiver and get more explosive at tight end, where the two-tight end Patriots set the pace in the NFL. The Texans have done a lot of the hard work in getting to the AFC’s final four two years running, but if they want to get past the likes of New England, they have to be able to throw more playmakers at the Patriots defense.
Proven just as right as Shaughnessy? Ben Dubose of the Houston Press, who dismissed the team several weeks ago. Dubose wrote:
Ignore the main box score numbers. Forget the 425 total yards for Houston and the 28 points. Same for the 41 placed in the New England column.
In the big picture, it’s more of the same. Gary Kubiak, Matt Schaub and the Houston offense shoulder the majority of blame in yet another crucial game, this time a season-ending defeat in the divisional round of the playoffs at the hands of the hated Patriots.
More depressingly, it’s time to wonder whether the Texans (13-5) can ever truly contend for a Super Bowl under the current regime and system.
With the game on the line — that is, before Houston trailed, 38-13, in the fourth quarter — the offense mustered a mere 13 points. Of those 13, six came courtesy of other-worldly special teams efforts in the form of a 94-yard kickoff return from Danieal Manning and a career-long, 55-yard field goal from Shayne Graham.
In other words, the offense effectively put up seven meaningful points against Tom Brady in Foxboro…
Still, “TexansDC” of SB Nation‘s Battle Red Blog was more disillusioned by the defense, which, while victimized by injuries–something McNair was quick to bring up, according to the Chronicle‘s Tania Ganguli–was still supposed to be the Texans’ strength:
Myself? The blame has to go on the defense. One sack and three receivers (Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Shane Vereen) had over 83 receiving yards each. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips could not make the adjustments to match New England’s offense and Barrett Ruud and Shiloh Keo covering people is laughable in a bad way.
Houston rapper Bun B covered three of the four biggest fan complaints on Twitter:
Size on the corners. Receivers to help Dre. And a QB! #WhatIShouldveAskedSantaForXmas
— Bun B (@BunBTrillOG) January 14, 2013
Above the fray was Chronicle fan blogger Stephanie Stradley, a.k.a. “Texans Chick”, who decided not to post about the game at length until a little time had passed. “Talk radio will be horrific. The worst of blog comments happen. Hard to conduct a reasonable, realistic conversation even if I were able,” she wrote. “Mostly this ending which many fanbases are familiar with, and we used to experience in early November. …This season was more fun than most until it was not…”
Indeed, ESPN’s Kuharsky recalled how one Texans player promised that the team would advance further–much further–after losing to the Ravens last season:
After the playoff loss in Baltimore last season, defensive lineman Antonio Smith and his teammates made a pact to get to the Super Bowl this year.
“This was not an achievement to any of us,” he said of finishing a second season in a row on the road in the divisional round. “It’s the biggest disappointment you can have.”
But Smith and his teammates still had something to feel good about this morning:
A few dozen #Texans fans were waiting in the cold outside Reliant Stadium at 2 am, cheering on the team as they returned
— Nick Scurfield (@NickScurfield) January 14, 2013