The Texans are no strangers to painful, dramatic losses. But none of their losses this season hurt more than their 34-28 overtime heartbreaker to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football.
Houston has been a second-half team all season, averaging a league-high 227.8 yards in the final two quarters entering Week 14.The flip side is that the Texans have needed those efforts to compensate for slow starts. It was more of the same this evening.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, the Texans gained 301 net yards in the second half and outscored the Ravens 15-0 in the fourth quarter to force overtime at 28-28.
The elation was short-lived, though, as quarterback Matt Schaub's pass intended for wide receiver Jacoby Jones was picked off on the Texans' first series in the extra period. Cornerback Josh Wilson returned the interception 12 yards into the end zone to finish the game.
"I didn't make a play," Schaub said. "As a quarterback at this level, when you have an opportunity to take your team down to win the game, you have to do it."
Coach Gary Kubiak came to the defense of Schaub, who had a gutty performance with 393 yards on 31-of-62 passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Given the technical issues with the headsets that disrupted the Texans' playcalls all evening, Schaub's execution was admirable.
"Bottom line is, he got his team in position to win," Kubiak said. "I put him in a tough position right there (at the end) and I feel bad about it, but we would not have been in that position, with that opportunity, if it hadn't been for Matt."
The game was similar to the Texans' recent losses at Jacksonville, New York and Philadelphia, where Houston dug itself a hole and managed to fight back only to fall in the waning minutes or seconds. But this latest defeat has more dire consequences.
With three games remaining in the regular season, the Texans are tied with their Week 15 opponent, Tennessee, for last place in the AFC South. The Texans' 5-8 record does not mathematically eliminate them from playoff contention, but the team does not control its own destiny.
This isn't the way the Texans envisioned their season unfolding.
"All year we talked about a lot of things, and (we) haven't done it," defensive tackle Amobi Okoye said. "We are definitely playing for our pride. We have to finish it out."
The Texans' chances of winning appeared grim in the first half. On the Texans' first six offensive possessions, Matt Turk punted four times. The other two series finished in a missed 52-yard field goal by Neil Rackers and an interception, Schaub's first, on a pass deflected off tight end Owen Daniels.
Meanwhile, the Ravens scored on two touchdowns by wide receiver Derrick Mason and a bruising rushing score by running back Willis McGahee.
Even though the Texans cut their deficit before halftime to 21-7 on wide receiver Andre Johnson's 46-yard touchdown, the Ravens responded on the opening play of the second half with a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by David Reed.
From that point, the Texans scored 21 unanswered points. Rackers started the outburst with 24- and 42-yard field goals that made the score 28-13 late in the third quarter.
With 11:03 left in the game, the Texans began a drive from their one-yard line. Schaub completed seven passes for 73 yards, including a 13-yard pass to Johnson on fourth-and-two and a seven-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jacoby Jones. The 15-play, 99-yard drive over 5:03 was the longest in team history.
After the Texans' defense forced its third punt of the second half on the next series, Schaub orchestrated one of the best drives in franchise history. Starting from the Texans' five-yard line with no timeouts and 2:42 on the game clock, he completed 9-of-10 pass attempts for 87 yards and also rushed eight yards for a first down. His five-yard touchdown pass to Johnson in the back of the end zone set up a two-point attempt with 29 seconds remaining. Schaub rifled a pass that Jones snagged for the tying score.
Hysteria swept Reliant Stadium as fans exchanged high-fives and erupted in cheers. Unfortunately, the elation was fleeting.
"To go from everyone being so excited to something like that happening, you really don't have words for it," Johnson said.
The Texans' theme this season has been slow starts and furious comebacks that fall short. It's puzzling to both Kubiak and players.
"It's hard to put your finger on," Kubiak said. "If I could, I would change it right now so that we would start faster."
Linebacker Brian Cushing stood shocked at his locker after the game.
"I wish we could put together a full game," he said. "It's just really disappointing with how we have just let those games get away. I was pretty sure we had this one."