The way it ended was tough to swallow. The Texans fought their way to the top of the division. They earned the right to play at home. This was no small feat, playing in the only NFL division to have three winning teams (oh, and the last place team knocked off the Patriots and somehow blanked Indy 6-0).
But it all came to a screeching halt, in a gut-punching 21-7 loss to the all-time Texans villains, the Colts.
As good as they are now, it's hard to believe the Colts were ever 1-5. But you can say similar things about the Texans, having been 0-3. There was Houston in September, winless, beating Indy on the road, starting a record nine-game winning streak.
Down the stretch, however, even as the team won two of its last three games, the running attack struggled. And the pass defense took some hits. The Texans couldn't be at their best when they needed to. Far from it.
They pulled out a division title, holding off the challengers at the regular season buzzer. The problem was, once the playoffs hit, they faced the hottest team in the league, equipped with a quarterback who is arguably among the NFL's elite. And they made costly mistakes in execution that derailed their chance to advance.
Now comes the offseason. Bill O'Brien says every year is different. He and Brian Gaine will work to improve the roster. And do whatever else they need to do to make sure that when they get to January again, they'll perform better.
Getting to the playoffs is not to be taken for granted. It's monumentally tougher to win, and failure stings more as the stakes are higher.
As disappointing as the loss was, it's not like the 30-0 defeat against Kansas City three years ago. The franchise now has a franchise quarterback. Deshaun Watson is 23 years old and just getting started. He'll be back on this stage again and learn from the experience.
Four-fifths of the offensive linemen were starting for their first or second full season. Two of the tight ends are rookies. Two of the receivers who played the bulk of the game are rookies. These aren't excuses. They are actually positives moving forward. Everybody got a brutal lesson, and they will work to be better from it.
It's heartbreaking for the fans, who showed up, full throat, and tried to will the team to stop Indy. The Texans picked the worst time of the year for their toughest game in halftime deficit and margin of defeat. It's a feeling that will motivate the young players throughout the offseason. Roughly half the 53 man roster was getting its first taste of the playoffs.
A new crop of rookies and free agents will come in. Adjustments will be made. Watson will enter his third campaign.
And we'll all be watching.
The Houston Texans took on the Indianapolis Colts for the 2018-2019 Wildcard Game.