Texans 27, Dolphins 20: So Close, Yet So Far
One of two missed Kris Brown field goals. One of two Chris Brown rushing attempts from a yard out. A ridiculous Chris Brown pass on first and goal in Jacksonville. Take away any of those -- just one -- and the Texans are most likely 9-6 and controlling their own playoff destiny heading into the season's final weekend.
Instead, they're 8-7 and -- assuming they take care of business at home against a Patriots team with little to play for -- need a pair of upsets to advance to the postseason for the first time in franchise history. On one level, it's depressing to come that tantalizingly close and likely fall short.
But look at it objectively, and progress is evident. As much as we hate to admit it, the Texans aren't the only team with terrible luck. Their Sunday opponent -- Miami -- stormed back from a 24-6 hole at Tennessee last week in a game they needed to stay in playoff contention and won the overtime coin toss. Then, like so many Texans games, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when Chad Henne tossed a crushing interception.
The Texans, as they have throughout this tumultuous season, used the heartbreaks as motivation and came out with a fire lit. The Dolphins appeared ready to star in a sequel to The Hangover. And before you could blink, the Texans took a 27-0 lead.
"I knew we were ready to play today," head coach Gary Kubiak said in a postgame quotes release by the team. "In our locker room, you could have heard a pin drop because the guys were focused. They had a great week."
Sure, the Texans -- per usual -- took their foot off the gas after grabbing the lead, and the Dolphins made things semi-interesting in the second half. Then again, this wasn't a doormat they were playing. These were the defending AFC East champions, in their house, with the playoffs on the line for them as well. They were going to make a run.
But because the Texans came out of the gate focused and intense, they had enough to withstand Miami's late charge. And as much as local columns -- including this one -- have blamed Kubiak for a multitude of problems throughout this season, he deserves praise for having the Texans ready and delivering arguably the biggest win in franchise history.
"This is as deep as we've been as a team," Kubiak said. "That's why I came here, to get this football team and this organization to get in a position like that. We've got an outside shot of making the playoffs next week and we have a realistic chance to become winners for the first time in this organization."
Most impressively, Kubiak learned from his mistakes. The pair of fourth-down blunders from the one (Jacksonville and Arizona games) were compounded by the accompanying playcalls. After all, why would a team with a terrible interior line and subpar running backs take the game out of the hands of stars like Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson?
On Sunday, with a 3-0 lead in the first quarter and looking for a decisive early punch, the Texans were stuffed on third and short at the Miami 10. But instead of force-feeding the run again on fourth down, Schaub went to the air and found Johnson on a slant for a touchdown.
The rout was on.
Given the talent in the Texans' passing game, it's the kind of call that should have been obvious earlier in the season. For whatever reason, it wasn't. But it is now.
"We knew we'd have to throw the ball and keep them honest and we did," Kubiak said.
We'll see if it's enough.
Either way, the stage is certainly set. With a win against the star-studded Patriots at Reliant, the Texans can secure their first winning season in franchise history and - at the least - keep themselves mathematically alive heading into the late games on the season's final Sunday.
"Our goal is to be in the position that we're in right now," Johnson said.
Most likely, capitalizing on that position would also buy Kubiak one more year in Houston - a feat that seemed impossible just three weekends ago when the Texans were wrapping up a four-game losing streak.
Suddenly, a pair of upsets from the Bengals, Raiders and Chiefs doesn't seem quite as far-fetched.