After a 42-14 loss at New England on Monday night, many observers around the country have stuck a fork in the Texans.
One national columnist wrote Tuesday that the Texans would be one of the weakest No. 1 seeds in recent memory if they earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Others have said the Patriots game exposed the Texans as frauds, pretenders who aren't ready for the big stage.
"I have no doubt how we will respond on Sunday. Period," Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "You guys can say what you want, think what you want. Just watch us on Sunday and see what happens."
The Texans (11-2) still have the best record in the AFC, and they have a chance to clinch their second consecutive AFC South title on Sunday with a victory over the surprising Indianapolis Colts (9-4) at Reliant Stadium.
"How do I think the team's going to respond this week?" defensive end Antonio Smith said. "Awesome."
Smith said he doesn't want to put the Patriots loss behind him. The veteran defensive captain said he wants to "store it for a little bit, just so it can fester and cook as long as I need it to cook to turn to what I need it to turn to – like a great anger with vengeance and furious anger."
The last time the Texans lost before Monday was in Week 6 against the Green Bay Packers at Reliant Stadium. They were 5-0 until Aaron Rodgers torched them for six touchdown passes in a 42-24 Sunday-night rout, much like Tom Brady carved them up with four touchdown passes at Foxboro on Monday night.
A week after the Texans lost to the Packers, the Baltimore Ravens came to Reliant Stadium for a matchup of 5-1 teams. The Texans beat them 43-13, the start of a six-game winning streak.
"We bounced back against a good team that week," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Thursday. "We've got to bounce back against a hell of a team this week in a big, big game.
"In the NFL, everybody is good. You're going to show up some days and it's not going to go that well. It's a humbling game, and we obviously got humbled the other day, but they're very focused today. They know they've got to play a lot better. I think we're a mentally tough football team that's ready to go play again."
Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Thursday that the Texans are approaching this game just like they did after their first loss, their 11th win and every other game this season.
"You go to the next game," Phillips said. "You can't live in the past. You've got to keep working on what you're doing. Even when you win, certainly, there are things that you could do better. There's always something to work on to get better; you're never perfect. If you have a bad game, you've got to bounce back from it. The good teams do that. The bad teams don't."
The Texans expect to show that they're in the former category on Sunday.
"I can't wait to play again, get in front of our home fans, get out there, play the game and just get back to it," defensive end J.J. Watt said. "It was one game, we lost the game, and we're going to get back to work. That's all we can do, so we're out here putting in our time. We're going to be ready."