Right now there is nothing to feel but a stinging twinge of bitterness and regret. The offseason has come all too soon, and yet, still later than we're used to seeing it.
The only real reason it hurts is because of Wade Phillips. Nobody on the national scene expected this team to make any noise in the playoffs without Matt Schaub, and while the individual brilliance of Arian Foster and Andre Johnson was on display, it was clear that T.J. Yates, by no fault of his own, was not fit to guide this team to the promised land at this point in his career.
Yet here was this beastly defense, dragging the Texans along in every game. Taking the Ravens all the way to third-and-goal after Jacoby Jones' completely inexplicable gaffe. Holding them to just one field goal -- one that was mainly because Matt Turk gave Baltimore a short field -- after the first quarter. Standing Ray Rice up on fourth-and-goal. Sacking Joe Flacco five times and bringing out "Bad Flacco" from the beginning. Forcing three fumbles. Keeping the Ravens' deep play-action game completely out of the box score despite having just one cornerback of any real worth.
You are why we can feel real pain again.
Thank you for drafting J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed. The howls from the crowd (including me) who didn't understand the Watt pick because we thought Mario Williams was playing inside were, in retrospect, idiotic. Reed did not play quite as well as his sack total reflected, but was much better than he had any business being in his rookie year. A pair of home runs -- and they did enough to make sure the loss of Mario Williams barely had an impact on the season.
Thank you, along with Rick Smith, for signing the pair of secondary upgrades this team has needed since 2005. Watching Johnathan Joseph play cornerback opened my eyes up to a level of skill and confidence in a defensive player who doesn't rush the passer that I have never had before. Danieal Manning was completely stellar and absolutely the right fit for this team. Combined with moving Glover Quin inside, I don't think there is any doubt that the two best safeties in Texans' history started for this year's team.
Thank you for getting the best out of every player that you had. I still don't think Shaun Cody is a very good nose tackle, but you took him farther than you had any right to. He was downright pedestrian this year, and that is the best that we could have hoped for once it became clear that Earl Mitchell belonged on the side of a milk carton.
Thank you for making sure that Kareem Jackson continued to split snaps. I know a couple of you will play the "so sick of Kareem Jackson hate" card, especially since he managed to string together two plays in a row where he didn't pee his pants this week, but in my opinion this (still) pretty bad version of him is the best he has in him. Wade properly spotted him and dealt with him the best that he could. He deserves credit for not letting him start every game and get torched.
Thank you for reminding Houston fans what it was like to have a defense they could rely on. There were some fun years under Dom Capers, but the number of times I said to myself "we can count on this defense" was very small, and probably begins and ends with the game where Aaron Glenn intercepted 638 Tommy Maddox passes. After four years of Frank Bush and Richard Smith, I was not even sure I could recognize real defense when it was played. You changed everything.
Thank you for making the entire endeavor of being a Texans fan not feel like a complete exercise in futility. There is definitely a lot of pain right now due to this loss, but it's nothing like that of being a fan of a team that seems to actively make you miserable on a week-to-week basis. Your defense and Gary's offense combined to create the first team in this franchise's history that is truly worthy of the fans it has.
Most of all, thank you for snubbing Tampa Bay and coming back to finish what you started. I am by no means the most optimistic person in the world, but it is hard to look at the wealth of talent and coaching that this team now has and not get giddy about next season. Let's leave this snakebitten year in the past, continue to attack our few weaknesses, and aim to make next season end two games later.