I connected with the emotional side of my fandom much more than I usually do after this Sunday's latest loss. I want to say in advance that yesterday changed absolutely nothing about the Texans in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't change the fact that they are one of two teams that are any good in a terrible division, nor does it eliminate their hopes of the playoffs. The Ravens may end up having one of the better defenses in recent NFL history this season, the Texans played without Andre Johnson or Mario Williams, and a win on the road against a formidable foe would have changed the way people around the NFL see the Texans.
But, they lost. And since the Texans lost, things just stayed the same.
Other columnists have keyed in these headlines before: "Same Old Texans," "Texans Blow Lead Again," and the like. I know I'm treading on oversaturated ground. I kept my expectations low for the beginning of the season, and thought that seeing the Texans come out of the opening six games of the season at .500 would be a goal.
But that was back before I underestimated Wade Phillips and his ability to generate pressure. Even without Williams around, our witchdoctor dialed up two sacks and constant knockdowns for Joe Flacco, kept Ray Rice in check until the final drive of the game, and allowed the Ravens to convert just three third downs the entire game. Three third downs was a quarter under the Frank Bush regime, and Phillips is still dealing with assorted roster chaff that was left on the roster from that disaster (Hello, Kareem Jackson!)
No, what stung the most about this loss was that in a gut-check game against a real contender, the Texans' offense simply didn't execute. With most Texans losses over the past couple of years, you almost expect to come upon some great play of woe and misfortune where you can focus your misery. There were no Matt Schaub throws that left you tearing out your hair, no major coaching quibbles or challenges, no turnovers, not one player that you could point to and say "this guy cost us the game*" -- even the oft-critiqued Jacoby Jones had a moment in the sun.
*-I know some of you are going to say "What about Arian Foster?" I still think that has more to do with misuse and defenses keying up on him than poor play or phantom injuries he may or may not have. Perhaps time will prove me wrong on this, but I think Andre Johnson's return will open things back up for him.
No, instead this was a clear case of the Texans' offense not being good enough to get it done against a real defense. It might be for a different reason, but the record keeps skipping.
Look, Texans, here's what you need to know about this fanbase right now: We're eager to support a winning team. Desperate, even. When you look at the state of the NBA Lockout and the ... thing ... that used to be the Houston Astros, this fanbase needs something to grab onto in the worst way.
You just won't let it be that easy. The air around the traditional media is practically poisoned with sarcasm and distrust from the million times before where they thought they could trust you. I don't know if that is a reflection on the coach, the general atmosphere at Reliant, or something that just naturally builds up when a team can't propel themselves to the next level. But whatever it is, it will only go away when your team emphatically makes it go away.
After the game, Paul Kuharsky got this quote from Kevin Walter:
"We feel we are a playoff-caliber team, we deserve to be one."
With all due respect: No. No, you do not. Playoff berths in the NFL aren't handed out like Halloween candy. If you want one, win a game that matters convincingly, then keep that forward momentum going. You played a Pittsburgh team at its worst -- one that was starting Maurkice Pouncey and four bar stools-- at home, and barely won. Your other two wins came against a pair of teams that have no wins to their name yet.
And sure, maybe the general state of the AFC South is so bad that you can win anyway. Is that what you want to be known as? The 9-7 team out of the weakest division in the NFL that needed to spend $50 million guaranteed in free agency to be able to tack "one terrible beatdown in the playoffs" on Andre Johnson's resume?
Because right now, that is what you are. I've come to terms with it. I'm not mad, I don't hate you for it -- I certainly can't say I'm bored with it because you manage to keep mixing up the reasons for the inevitable loss to the better team so well.
But through six games, every positive vibe I get comes with reservations that you've done little to handle. Point to the injuries all you want, but every team has to deal with them, and when you're shuffling through guys like Trindon Holliday, Lawrence Vickers, and Bryant Johnson, it is plainly obvious that you haven't developed the depth to deal with said injuries despite them being a fact of NFL life. Heck, all you really need to do to see that is look at cornerback, where first-rounder Jackson doesn't even belong on the field over free talent Jason Allen. Point to the circumstances, and all you have to blame are yourselves. The last time I can remember this team being completely defeated and out of a game was the 2009 season opener against the Jets. The last time I can remember the Texans throwing away a winnable game was eight times a season.
You know what you deserve, Mr. Walter? The title of "The Peter Pan Texans". If you don't like that one, play your way off of it this week in Tennessee. Then keep it going, for a change.