Texans Find Yet Another Way To Turn Breakthrough Into Heartbreak
Before 2004, I remember laughing at Red Sox fans and the Curse of the Bambino. I rolled my eyes while Cubs fans whined about a goat. I remember being baffled that grown men and women could seriously believe or discuss outside forces having an impact on what occurs in the field of play.
Then I met the Houston Texans.
It's not that there's a logical case to believe the Texans (5-4) are cursed. As always, it's random luck that simply finds its way to go against them, as it did in Sunday's heartbreaking 20-17 loss at Indianapolis (8-0) in a game that essentially wrapped up the AFC South for the Colts. But it's to the point where it's hard to use logic to describe what happens to the local football team.
Sure, the Texans had plenty of self-inflicted wounds, such as taking the first quarter-and-a-half off for a second consecutive week, more than 100 yards in penalties and Kris Brown's missed field goal, which was the ultimate in gut punches. But even considering those factors, the Texans were still good enough to have the NFL's best team on the ropes in their own stadium -- if not for two plays that served as a microcosm of the first seven-and-a-half years of Houston Texans football.
Ryan Moats, only starting at running back because of Steve Slaton's fumble-itis, had a first-half fumble of his own when he was only one yard from scoring and bringing the Texans within 13-7. But the fumble, in and of itself, wasn't the story. It was the incredibly improbable sequence of events that led to it.
For starters, the ball was not completely dislodged until Moats hit the ground, a large part of why he was ruled down on the field. Even though replays showed the ball coming out early, it occurred as Moats went out of bounds, and the ball, instead of following him, managed to somehow roll sideways, centimeters from the sideline and ending the play but never quite making it. Meanwhile, the defender who picked it up was inches from having his back heel out of bounds, which also would have blown the play dead.
As usual, the Texans didn't help themselves, either. Coach Gary Kubiak and quarterback Matt Schaub had ample time to quickly run a play prior to the two-minute warning and eliminate any chance of a review. But they went the conservative route, attempted to use the two-minute warning to draw up the play, and gave the Colts an eternity to look at replays and decide to throw the challenge flag.
Even after all of that, the Texans managed to dominate the Colts in the second half. Trailing 20-17 with just over two minutes left and needing a stop, the Texans got that and then some when Antonio Smith stripped Peyton Manning on only a four-man rush.
But while Moats' fumble was tantalizingly close to going out of bounds and would have done so in most situations, Manning's fumble somehow bounced directly to an offensive lineman, where it was safely secured. With a favorable bounce, the Texans would have already been in field-goal range with two minutes to go, and only needing 30 yards to finally slay the dominant Colts in Indianapolis. But like always in a big game for the Texans, the bounce went against them.
In 2007, when the Texans were 2-0 with a chance to beat the Colts at Reliant Stadium and move to 3-0 for the first time, Andre Johnson went down in garbage time the week before with a knee injury. In 2008, when the Texans were 0-2 in Jacksonville and needed a win to keep their season from being over before it started, they lost an overtime coin flip and the Jaguars marched down and quickly kicked a field goal as the offense helplessly watched.
Like those, this was the defining game for the 2009 Houston Texans. With a win, the Texans would've been 6-3, firmly in both postseason and division contention and on the national radar. Now, they're 5-4, completely out of the division picture and only on the fringe of wild-card conversation. They'll be facing Vince Young and the suddenly-resurgent Titans on Monday Night Football in two weeks in a game where they have everything to lose and little to gain. I probably don't need to say what historically happens to the Texans in those situations.
Logic tells you Sunday proved the Texans belonged. They outplayed the Colts in Indianapolis and took them down to the wire, proving they belonged in the same conversation as one of the NFL's powerhouse teams. From a football standpoint, they deserve to be favored when the Colts pay a return visit to Houston on Nov. 29.
But at this point, it's hard to think logically about the Texans. Instead, it's more the infamous Murphy's law -- whatever can go wrong, does. Will they ever get the bounce?
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