Colts 28, Texans 16: Gary Kubiak-Led Collapse Reaches Fitting Conclusion
Dumbfounding special teams miscues. A 70-yard touchdown over the top on 3rd-and-23. Two inexplicable Matt Schaub interceptions with the offense rolling. Four offsides penalties. Two timeouts wasted on a baffling challenge and an indecisive fourth down.
Photo by Groovehouse
These are Gary Kubiak's Houston Texans. In their biggest game ever, they completed perhaps the biggest collapse in Houston sports history, somehow surrendering 28 points to a Colts team that had under 200 yards of offense until its final drive.
Yes, the '93 Oilers choke was bad. So was that of the '98 Astros. But this collapse was more significant because it encompassed so many areas. This wasn't Kevin Brown morphing into the second coming of Sandy Koufax, or Frank Reich catching lightning in a bottle for a quarter and a half of football.
This was a 12-2 football team that needed merely one win in its final two games to secure home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs for the first time in Houston history. Instead, nearly every concern that went unaddressed by the coaching staff managed to bite the Texans in spectacular fashion.
Rather than have to win two games at Reliant Stadium to reach the Super Bowl, the Texans will now have to beat Cincinnati at home next weekend just to visit New England.
In other words, the 2012 season is over. And in terms of Super Bowl aspirations, every subsequent season is equally hopeless until Kubiak either retires or is shown the door.
Much more than loss of Cushing, linemen
Many will point out that the Texans could improve with a healthy Brian Cushing at linebacker and a potential first-round pick at right tackle or guard. But the issues in Houston go far beyond personnel.
The 70-yard touchdown from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton that essentially ended the game? To no surprise, it was safety Quintin Demps that was beaten again. It's happened to Demps time and time again this season, most recently two weeks ago against Hilton and these same Colts.
Demps was benched temporarily and the defensive performance seemed to improve, especially in terms of limiting big plays. But with everything on the line, Kubiak trotted number 27 on the field for virtually the entire game.
A few possessions earlier, the Texans grabbed a 16-14 lead and seemingly had taken all momentum before Deji Karim returned a kickoff 101 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. It was the same kickoff man (Shayne Graham) that had struggled all year with depth on his kickoffs and the same coverage scheme that has been victimized for league-worst return numbers.
No accountability. Graham was never seriously tested and special teams coach Joe Marciano has kept his job.
Meanwhile, in the two biggest games of Schaub's career, the veteran responded with no touchdown passes, two incredulous interceptions and quarterback ratings of 72.1 and 66.3. He's never won a playoff game. But the chances of Schaub leaving Houston anytime soon are almost nonexistent, because of the massive contract extension the Texans gave him before the year even started.
Quick turnarounds possible -- with new leadership
Of the 12 postseason teams, six are led by rookie or second-year quarterbacks. In just two years, Seattle has transformed its roster from an aging afterthought to a league power -- guided by new coach Pete Carroll and third-round rookie QB Russell Wilson.
Rebuilding does not have to be a lengthy process.
Meanwhile, the Texans remain stuck in neutral. Sure, they've won a pair of division titles due to the brief rebuild in Indianapolis. But in terms of the ultimate goal of winning a
Super Bowl, the biggest obstacle that was present two years ago still remains: the fear of Gary Kubiak.
Peyton Manning wanted to become a Texan this offseason. It's no secret. He was sold. It would have taken some cap maneuvering and retooling of the system, but arguably the league's best-ever quarterback had Houston at the top of his list.
Instead, Kubiak clung to his guys and his system, afraid to make the big move.
That same mind-set was quite prevalent on Sunday in Indianapolis. In a game where the biggest play came on a 3rd-and-23 bomb, the Texans routinely called several bubble screens and short passes on third downs of any considerable length.
With the Texans facing a 4th-and-12 at the Indianapolis 36, Kubiak was so indecisive he had to waste a precious timeout trailing by five in the fourth quarter.
Kubiak chose a lengthy field goal, and appropriately, his kicker -- the same one that had missed so many 50+ yarders all year but was never replaced -- came up short and wide.
Learning from the league's power teams
Last offseason, the AFC West-winning Broncos jettisoned fan favorite and global phenomenon Tim Tebow after a division title and playoff win in favor of Manning. The AFC East champion Patriots are known for taking more gambles -- both in-game and team-building strategy -- than any other franchise.
The NFC North champion Packers stared down the legendary Brett Favre when he attempted to come out of retirement and stuck with their plan of developing Aaron Rodgers. In the NFC West, the victorious 49ers gave full control of their organization to Jim Harbaugh two years ago and benched highly rated starting QB Alex Smith at midseason.
The Texans, meanwhile, have watched Kubiak carefully implement his system and vision for seven years and have all of one playoff victory to show for it.
It's not to say that Kubiak is a poor coach. The Texans are in much better shape today than they were when he took the reins in early 2006. But in a league of short coaching tenures, it's unrealistic to expect Kubiak to eventually evolve into a new identity. His shortcomings are well-established and serious.
If owner Bob McNair is serious about winning a Super Bowl as soon as possible, it's evident what must happen for the Texans to break through.