You were thinking it. I was thinking it. Hell, the whole city of Houston (or at least those who actually cared enough to watch) was thinking it: “Same old Texans.”
And who could blame you? Faced with a golden opportunity to finally record a non-losing season, the Texans came out flat against a Jacksonville team completely content to rest most of its key starters. The game began with a clinical Jaguars’ drive that ended with a touchdown. Houston couldn’t match. All of a sudden, visions of the disastrous 2004 finale against Cleveland began dancing front and center in the mind of every Texans fan trained to expect nothing but the worst.
Then, suddenly, a gift from the heavens. Fresh off the practice squad, Jacksonville’s Chad Owens inexplicably muffed a punt inside his own ten yard line. Two plays later, the Texans tied the game, enabling everyone to put down the hemlock and breathe a bit easier. And by the time Andre Davis set foot in the end zone with his second straight kickoff return for a touchdown, that ever-elusive 8-8 season was finally within reach.
So what does it mean? As mentioned last Friday, the Texans are the ultimate half-full, half-empty team. Offensively, they produced a plethora of big plays this season, but turnovers tarnished many a game. And on the defensive side of the ball, Mario Williams took a giant step forward, but the rest of the unit still can’t pressure opposing quarterbacks or force turnovers. So while real progress was definitely made this year, the franchise remains plagued by problems present since its inception.
Despite those incessant issues, the Texans figure to be a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2008. Nationally, a sea change is already underway with regard to the way the team is perceived. Columnists like Sports Illustrated’s Peter King are hopping on the Texans’ bandwagon. Does it matter? Of course not. But for long-suffering Houston fans, it’s probably nice to see the club mentioned in sentences that don’t include terms like “laughingstock” for once.
No matter which way you see the glass, the New Year promises to be vital to the future of this franchise. There are no more moral victories to be won. Success will be defined by one thing and one thing only: a playoff appearance. Anything less will be—and should be—seen as failure. If the Texans fancy themselves a real NFL franchise, then it’s high time they be judged like one.
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So if you truly want to know what 8-8 means, check in around this time next year. By then we’ll know whether it was a stepping stone or fool’s gold.
In the meantime, all the best to you and yours in the New Year. Thanks for reading and thanks for all the comments. Hopefully, ’08 is a great one; for you and the Texans. And the Rockets, too. The Astros? Well, let’s just say I won’t be holding my breath.
Happy New Year, everyone. See ya in ’08.
-- Jason Friedman