After suffering their worst loss since 2008, Texans players said coach Gary Kubiak issued a challenge to the entire team in the visitors' locker room at Gillette Stadium.
The Texans (11-2) lost 42-14 to the New England Patriots (10-3) on Monday night in a meeting of the AFC's top two teams. It was a chance for the Texans to assert their dominance as the new best team in the conference, to win a marquee primetime game on the road in December against a seasoned opponent. Instead, they were outplayed across the board and sent home to Houston with a resounding defeat.
"(Kubiak) wasn't pleased with the performance that we came out with, not at all," safety Danieal Manning said after the game. "He basically was saying if we're going to be a championship team, we have to face teams like this. We have to go through situations that we were in and we have to deal with things that were out in front of us. We didn't handle the way that a championship (team) did. They did.
"It's a challenge from tomorrow throughout the rest of the season. It's a challenge, what type of team we're going to be. All that other stuff we've got, clinching, playoff berth, it doesn't matter. We've got to continue to stack wins – win until we can't win anymore."
Manning said Kubiak challenges the team every week, but never quite like he did on Monday. He likened it to Kubiak and each player looking in a mirror both at themselves and at each other.
"He just stated what was true," defensive end Antonio Smith, a team captain, said. "He started it off by saying, 'Now you see what it takes to win games like this, to play like this. What you (were) in the first half let you know what these type of games are about.' That's absolutely true.
"What has to happen from here is, each and every veteran, each and every player – he did challenge from coaches, from top to bottom – the wisdom that you do have in situations like this, what you do know, grab your brother, pull him up, let him know what this game is going to take."
The Patriots have won nine AFC East division titles the last 10 years and five AFC championships (three Super Bowls) in the last 12. The Texans earned their first-ever playoff berth last season and entered Week 14 with a two-game lead over every other team in the AFC.
Smith said he had a feeling from the get-go on Monday night that the Patriots had a certain air about their team, something the young Texans are perhaps still developing.
"I sensed it from the coin toss," Smith said. "It was business, straight up, to them. Didn't hardly look at you. Shook your hand firmly. No respect. That's how they came into this game… They dun' been here before. I'm a movie buff; it reminded me of that movie 'Troy' when Achilles told Hector, 'Now you know what you're dealing with. Ain't no pact between lions and men.' That's exactly what it was like. No love. 'We're coming in here to show y'all who the big dogs (are).'"
Perhaps looking for a silver lining, Smith – who played in Super Bowl XLIII with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009 – said the way the Texans lost on Monday night as a rite of passage for a young team, almost as if it needed to happen.
"The tables are turned," Smith said. "You ain't just trying to win games to get to the playoffs. In December, it gets real serious. It gets real serious, and we (saw) that today.
"I don't think there's one person in this locker room, probably from top to bottom, even (Texans chairman and CEO) Mr. (Bob) McNair, who's not pissed off. Nobody likes to get thrashed. Nobody likes to get beat like we got beat today, and that's exactly what happened, but there's always tomorrow. So we can't just go in the tank. We've got to do what we've got to do to win.
"What we learned the most is what it takes to play in these types of games. We're a young team, man. And you know now. You've got to take it like a man. You've got to take it all in. Everything. Ev-ery-thing. Take it all in, savor it and apply it to the next game and apply it to the next time we see 'em, because I have no doubt in my mind this epic battle will happen again."