A year after exiting the playoffs in a Divisional Round loss at Baltimore, the Texans were bounced from the postseason in the same weekend when they fell to the Patriots on Sunday.
Monday morning, the players cleaned out their lockers and met with the coaching staff for exit interviews. For safety Danieal Manning, the finality of it all and knowing that inevitable roster movement is coming stung.
"This team will never be the same," Manning said Monday. "Some faces will never be here (again), so that's just the natural part of this game. If you're going to play long enough, you've got to accept that."
Although the Texans failed to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions, Manning didn't dismiss the 2012 campaign as a failure.
"I feel like we're in the process of doing something tremendous," Manning said. "A lot of guys, we just can't see the full progress of it. I think we're building on something."
The building process involves improvement in an array of areas, and every Texan who spoke Monday acknowledged that he had room for growth. All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown was quick to express his desire to get better.
"You can never be perfect at the left tackle position," Brown said. "I think I still have a little ways to go as far as technique. Technique-wise, I really have to work."
Defensive end J.J. Watt, himself an All-Pro selection in 2012, also said that he had "so many things" to improve upon between now and August and was disappointed that his Monday was spent emptying a locker, instead of preparing for the AFC Title game. He reflected on the season that was.
"I don't see it as a success," Watt said. "We don't have a trophy, so it's not a success. And in my mind in this league, if you don't have a trophy, then you're not a success."
For some of the rookies, 2012 was a mixed bag of opportunities. Rookie right guard Brandon Brooks spent a good chunk of gamedays inactive. Over the final half of the season, his playing time increased, and he saw quite a bit of action in both of the two playoff games. Brooks split time at the position with fellow rookie Ben Jones, and to their right was second-year tackle Derek Newton. A youthful line, in their eyes, showed promise.
"Although we're young, I think we're going to be really good in years to come," Brooks said. "I think we'll be alright."
But for now, the team is off until the offseason workout program cranks up in March. In May after the draft, they'll be able to put on pads for OTA's, and late July will bring training camp. In between now and then, big thoughts will likely occupy parts of their days.
"We work hard this offseason, put every single thing we have into it," Watt said. "We're going to come back next season with that trophy on our mind."