They were oh-so-close to the playoffs in 2009, but the 9-7 Texans ultimately missed out on the first postseason trip in franchise history.
That razor-thin margin between themselves and a playoff team can be blamed on a number of near-misses, but it doesn't change the fact that Houston was a winner for the first time.
"I think it's a great achievement for the organization, our first winning season," wide receiver and team captain Andre Johnson said on Monday. "I think that it just boosts the attitude of the team, everybody, the coaches around here. I think it'll help us out a lot going into next season."
Johnson eclipsed the 1,500-yard receiving mark for the second consecutive season and led the NFL with 1,569 yards. He's been a Texan for every year save 2002 and wanted a shot at the postseason, but he was disappointed that he and his teammates didn't control their own destiny.
"We left it in the hands of somebody else," Johnson said. "That's something we can't do. We should have just taken care of business ourselves. I don't think there's a reason for anybody to hang their head or anything like that, but it just didn't work out."
Fellow captain DeMeco Ryans thinks 2009 was a difference-making season for he and the Texans. He firmly believes it laid the groundwork for more in 2010 and beyond.
"We feel like we've improved overall as a team and can go toe-to-toe with anyone," Ryans said. "I know everyone has that confidence that we can come out winners and we have a playoff-caliber team. We just have to find a way to handle our business earlier in the season and finish strong and go for a playoff run next year."
The team's first two draft picks last April, in AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing and defensive end Connor Barwin, both say 2009 was a year of learning. That accrued knowledge should pay dividends in the near future.
"Because I was in and out of the game, I wasn't playing full-time on defense," Barwin, who wound up with 3.5 sacks, said. "So it had a lot to do with just getting in the flow of the game, getting comfortable with my role. I think as the season progressed, that's what happened."
Cushing, who led the AFC in tackles with 134, said that 2009 brought a great realization for him.
"(I realized) that I can play in this league," Cushing said. "That's the bottom line. Everyone comes in and has that question. You worry about stuff and you hear things about the mental adjustments and stuff like that, and then you come in and you know you can do it. That's the big thing."
Strong safety Bernard Pollard, who joined the club on Sept. 24, thinks the defensive unit came together in impressive fashion over the course of the season.
"We definitely gelled," Pollard said. "I think a lot of the guys, things slowed down for them. We were peaking at the right time. I honestly believe that if we would've gotten in the playoffs, I don't think any team would've stopped us."
That confidence made it that much harder for Pollard to watch the Bengals fall to the Jets on Sunday night, which finally eliminated the Texans from a playoff shot.
"I was just a little ticked off," Pollard said. "I don't really watch a lot of football outside of playing it, but to watch that team go out there and see them play the way they played… You never want your fate to be in anybody else's hands, but ours was. Now, we have to learn. You don't want to be in this position."
Now, it's at least 246 days before the 2010 NFL season kicks off. In the meantime, Pollard and the Texans can think about ways to avoid being in that position again.