Titans 31, Texans 17: Waving The White Flag
Finally, the Texans (5-9) appear to have quit.
The gut-wrenching heartbreaks, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? Seen those before. Playing one awful half of football and inexplicably following it with 30 minutes of brilliance? Seen that before, too.
Having five wins going into the final quarter of the season? We've been there, as well.
But as much as the heartbreaks, the Texans of the Gary Kubiak era are known for creating hope when none seems to exist.
Two seasons ago, a 3-7 start ended with five wins in six games and an 8-8 finish.
One year ago, a disastrous 5-7 start concluded with a four-game win streak, bringing the Texans within one game of the playoffs and giving them their first winning season.
In each of those instances, the players' loyalty to Kubiak and refusal to quit was lauded as a positive trait for the Texans' coach and a reason that he could eventually succeed.
But after Monday's overtime loss to Baltimore crushed any reasonable postseason hopes, the Texans on Sunday appeared every bit as deflated as they were coming off the Reliant Stadium field six days earlier.
The defense, which had made strides in recent weeks -- including a shutout of the Rusty Smith-led Titans three weeks earlier -- surrendered 21 points in the opening quarter.
Even when defenders appeared in position to make plays -- such as a potential interception for Glover Quin in the first quarter -- the Texans were their own worst enemy, with free safety Troy Nolan tipping the ball away from Quin and to a Titan receiver.
The theme of the Texans hurting themselves culminated late in the first half, when defensive end Antonio Smith angrily shoved away linebacker Brian Cushing. Cushing, of course, was simply trying to calm Smith down and avoid one of his trademark unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. (It didn't work.)
Meanwhile, the offense was crushed at the point of attack. An offensive line that was talented enough to stymie a terrific Baltimore pass rush on Monday allowed Matt Schaub to be sacked four times by the Titans.
More embarrassing, Arian Foster rushed for just 15 yards on 11 carries, with defenders routinely closing in on him before he could even leave the backfield.
By the fourth quarter, Kubiak had seen enough to where he actually PUNTED with 10 minutes remaining, trailing 31-10. Even waving a white flag wouldn't have been as symbolic.
"We got it handed to us pretty good today," Kubiak said after the game. "They beat us up front pretty physically."
In Nashville, his Texans weren't atrocious for 30 minutes and brilliant in the other 30, as they had been in recent games. They were almost equally awful throughout, and there wasn't even a hint of a potential comeback.
This all came, of course, against a Titans group that had lost six consecutive games. The loss officially eliminated Houston from postseason contention.
Last week, conservative Texans owner Bob McNair predictably praised Kubiak and his team's "comeback" effort, saying he felt the team was close and that executives around the league had lauded his team's efforts.
Given Sunday's performance in Music City, it'll be interesting to listen to whether his tune changes.
The one consistent redeeming quality for Kubiak has been his relative control of the locker room and the commitment the players seem to have to him.
But now, the Texans are coming off their seventh loss in eight games, dropping them to 5-9 and assuring their first losing season since 2006. Players were on the verge of turning against each other, and in the end, the Texans were blown out by a team on a six-game losing streak.
Not only are the Texans not getting closer to turning the corner, they're actually becoming much worse.
Is that better than the Texans' usual creation of false hope? With the season mercifully coming to an end in two weeks, we'll soon find out.