The Houston Texans have had two chances this year, on national TV in prime time, to prove that they belong among the NFL’s elite.
In both of those opportunities, they have come up woefully short.
After being stomped out by the Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football in Week 6, the Texans laid another egg on Monday, this time on Monday Night Football against the Patriots.
The Texans did their best Arizona Cardinals impression — the Week 14 Cardinals, not the Week 2 variation that beat the Patriots — and were embarrassed in front of the nation yet again by New England.
The Patriots decimated the Texans in every aspect of football on Monday night, steamrolling Houston and showing the rest of football that they may very well be the best team in the AFC.
Monday night was an indication of how good the Patriots are, no doubt, but it was perhaps more an indictment on the Texans.
Andre Johnson said that this was the most important regular-season game in Houston history, and if this is how the Texans respond to historic opportunities, they are going to be in deep trouble when the playoffs get here.
The Texans gave reason to believe that their 11-1 record was nothing more than a mirage, showcasing a comedy of errors for the better part of 60 minutes on an unusually warm December night in Foxboro.
Tom Brady has made a Hall of Fame career out of making defenses look bad, but he got a lot of help on Monday night.
From the jump, the Texans looked confused on the defensive side. Things were so bad in the first half that one might assume that they didn’t even watch film in the week leading up to the game. The Texans blew coverage left and right, bit on just about every crucial playaction and left a lot to be desired when it came to tackling.
In a matter of just a few plays, cornerback Kareem Jackson was turned inside out by Wes Welker on a route down the left seem and followed it up by woefully failing to fall on a Stevan Ridley fumble inside the 5-yard line. On the next play, the Texans allowed an easy touchdown to Aaron Hernandez.
That touchdown, however, was not nearly as easy for Hernandez as the score he hauled in two drives later. On first and goal from the 4-yard line, the Texans apparently forgot that Hernandez was even on the field. The New England tight end was left all alone wide to the left, and Brady doesn’t miss those. The result? The easiest touchdown of Hernandez’s life.
The result was a 21-0 hold with 11:01 to play in the second quarter, a deficit that the usually explosive Texans offense showed no signs of being able to crawl out of.
Quarterback Matt Schaub was awful. He made poor decisions all night, and when he did make the right call, he missed open receivers. Arian Foster dropped a couple of passes out of the backfield on a couple of crucial second-quarter drives, possessions that the Texans desperately needed to score touchdowns on to try and even make things respectable.
It left the Texans in a desperate position where they were forced to attempt two fourth-down conversions in the second quarter. The first resulted in a drop from Kevin Walter. The second saw an unblocked Jerod Mayo pressure Schaub into horribly overthrowing Walter — who probably would have dropped it anyway.
The Texans headed to the locker room down 21-0, and with 30 minutes to play, this supposed matchup between supposed AFC powers was over. It didn’t get much better in the second half, and Houston was rolled 42-14 when it was all said and done.
Unsurprisingly, Johnson was singing a different tune after the game.
“We know how important this game was to us,” he said. “It was a good ass whipping, and that is pretty much it.”
If the Week 6 performance against the Packers was any sort of indication that the Texans aren’t ready for prime time, Monday night validated it for now at least. Or at the very least proved that elite quarterbacks will give the Texans fits. In three games against “elite” quarterbacks — Brady, Rodgers and Peyton Manning – the Texans have allowed 12 touchdown passes to no interceptions.
There’s still time for the Texans to turn it around. And ample credit must be given to the Patriots for executing their game plan and punching the Texans square in the mouth over and over and over again, doing their best Juan Manuel Marquez impression by landing an early knockout punch.
“We just got outplayed in all aspects of the game,” Foster said after the game. “We didn’t play well. I didn’t play well. It’s hard to come back from a deficit when you are playing a team of that caliber. We feel we’re a better team than that. We have to take this loss on the chin and get ready for next week.”
To add one more tacky cliche, it’s on the Texans to get up off the mat. They may be 11-2 and still have the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the conference. That means that not only might they get another shot at the Patriots. They’ll likely get that shot at home.
But until they can show they can show up and perform when the lights are shining bright, questions about their ability to win big games will continue, and they’re only going to get louder.