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Roller coaster thrill ride comes to an end

Let's remember one thing about this run for the playoffs. With the postseason heat on at least eight AFC teams with four weeks to go, it was the Texans who put together the most impressive run.

Yes, it came up short but it should serve as a reminder that great things can happen in sports when you keep fighting. The Texans clawed their way back into a playoff chase they were hopelessly out of and nearly tackled a playoff berth.

The amount of help they needed with four weeks ago was ridiculous, yet they had all but one game come through for them.

In the end, it wasn't enough. And despite their late season heroics, the Texans didn't miss the playoffs because Cincinnati was chilly or because JaMarcus Russell can't hold onto the football.

They missed out because they lost to the Jets on opening day. Because they blew two fourth-quarter leads against the Colts. Because they couldn't finish the job at home against the Titans. Because they couldn't get the ball back against Jacksonville.

You get the idea. Going to the playoffs was up to them, and they didn't do the job.

That's not to say this wasn't their best season. It was.

We've never seen the defense play better. We were elated by Andre Johnson's history-making campaign. We were impressed with Matt Schaub's outstanding year. It was their best team with the best record, but it wasn't enough.

The epitaph on the season should include a couple of key items. The first is that a playoff team can't go 4-4 at home.

The opening day loss to the Jets was a real head scratcher considering that what would become the best Texans offense and defense in history were helpless by scoring zero offensive TDs and getting third-down-converted to death by a rookie quarterback.

The next key item would be the four-game losing streak against divisional opponents. Yes, the Colts were responsible for two of the losses, but falling to Tennessee on Monday Night Football, blowing a 17-0 lead on Indy and misfiring against a Jacksonville team that was apparently not in the same class spelled doom.

The epitaph should also read that the team never quit and once again found a way to play at its best in December.

Next year, 9-7 might not do it, either. There are a lot of good developing teams in the AFC. The Texans need to find a way to get off to a good start. They'll need to get running back help and continue to strengthen the defense. And they'll need to improve against their division foes.

It's been a roller coaster thrill ride, and it's over. It was a taste of winning and playoff contention. Let's see what happens as they go after the full meal in 2010.

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