Check out our slideshow of the last Texans home game for the regular season.
The narratives for the first two Texan losses wrote themselves, even if they weren't completely accurate. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are Hall of Fame quarterbacks and played extremely well. The Texans (12-3) had a few unlucky bounces on offense. The team didn't desperately need either game.
None applied to Sunday's embarrassment by Christian Ponder and the Vikings (9-6). In a game where the Texans had everything to gain -- most notably, the number one seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs -- the star-studded offense didn't show up.
"We just didn't make plays," Andre Johnson said after the game. "We played horrible as an offense. That's pretty much it."
Going back to the second half of the Tennessee game, Houston's first-team offense has been dreadful for five of its last seven halves of football. It's a concerning trend as the team heads to January.
Offense turns offensive
The Vikings and Patriots have capable defenses, but these aren't the 2001 Baltimore Ravens. They shouldn't hold a team led by Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Johnson to 187 total yards and six points in a full football game. That type of outing has now happened twice in three weeks.
Every aspect of the team failed. The offensive front was largely obliterated by Jared Allen and Minnesota's defensive line, two weeks after a similar outing against Vince Wilfork. Several receivers -- notably, Owen Daniels and DeVier Posey -- dropped multiple passes.
Schaub didn't always have time. But when he did, he still appeared to be jittery. In one example, on a critical third down in the third quarter, Schaub settled for a two-yard dumpoff to Ben Tate and a punt even though he seemingly had several more seconds to let downfield routes develop. In other instances, wide-open deep patterns to Daniels and Andre Johnson were overthrown.
"It's a huge, huge disappointment," said Kubiak. "One that we've got to get over real quick. Offensively, that was probably about as bad as we've played."
Everything about the offense -- from the players down to the scheme -- has Kubiak's fingerprints all over it. When it fails, he fails.
Playcalling mirrors poor execution
If it were just an issue of personnel failures, the head coach might be excused for part of the blame. But in Houston's case, the individual failures are matched by incoherent and deeply flawed strategic thinking.
Trailing 16-3 to open the second half, the Texans began with back-to-back Foster runs -- even though Foster was a non-factor in the first half with 12 yards on nine carries. It left them with a third-and-long, which they failed to convert, leading to a three and out.
Should the Texans have completely abandoned the running game? That's up for debate. But there should at least be a consistent and understandable philosophy.
Flash forward two drives, and the Texans found themselves with a first and goal inside the Minnesota one-yard line. They opted for pass plays on two of three downs and settled for a field goal. The same offense that minutes earlier trusted its run blocking enough to hand it to Foster on second and long -- down 13 -- suddenly didn't believe it could pick up a foot.
"I don't know what was going on," said Daniels. "You want some type of rhythm. We couldn't find that all day."
Another troubling trend is the reluctance of the Houston staff to take any sort of risk. In less-than-a-yard scenarios, the most efficient play by far is the quarterback sneak. But after Schaub's foot injury on a sneak in Tampa Bay last year (more accurately, an Albert Haynesworth bellyflop), the Texans have almost entirely avoided the play this year.
On Sunday, the Texans had three chances from the Minnesota one on which a single yard or less would have brought them within six points. They didn't sneak it a single time. Against playoff-caliber defenses, this is incomprehensible. It gives very good linemen and linebackers one less option to think about and forces the Texans to take the ball behind the line of scrimmage. On two of the three plays Sunday, the Texans lost yardage.
The most sensible option would be to accept that Schaub's incident was a freak injury and unlikely to be repeated. Don't believe that? Fine. Consider building an extreme "goal-line package" around T.J. Yates. Denver has a similar package with backup quarterback Brock Osweiler in very limited circumstances.
But to almost remove the QB sneak from the playbook is not a logical choice.
Another bizarre decision came midway through the fourth quarter, with the Texans opting to punt on fourth-and-a-foot despite trailing by 10. Yes, the ball was on Houston's own 11. But what matters most is that at that point in the game, there was not a reasonable path to winning that involved a punt on that drive. Whatever the odds of converting the fourth down were, they were a lot better than the Texans expeditiously stopping the Vikings and then scoring twice, all in the last 10 minutes.
Appropriately, the Vikings immediately marched down the field for the game-clinching touchdown.
Opportunity for redemption
Nothing has been done that can't be undone, of course. The Texans still control their own destiny for the number one overall seed, needing only to win at Indianapolis -- a team the Texans throttled a week ago in Houston and one that will likely rest a few regulars with its number five playoff seed locked in.
Lose, though, and the Texans will complete one of the biggest collapses in Houston football history, having needed only one win against middling Minnesota and Indianapolis to clinch homefield.
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SHOW ME HOW
If the Texans blow a gift-wrapped scenario like this one and ultimately lose in the AFC playoffs, how can anyone reasonably expect the Kubiak-Schaub regime to ever win a Super Bowl?
Kubiak wouldn't actually be fired, of course. Owner Bob McNair loves him, plus the back-to-back division titles will keep fans flowing into Reliant Stadium and merchandise flying off the shelves.
But for the end game of a Super Bowl? If the Texans can't get this done -- especially if the offense, which doesn't have the excuse of losing Brian Cushing, is to blame -- it's very hard to envision when they can.
In six days, we'll arrive at what finally and truly is the "biggest game in franchise history."