"The Houston Texans are on the clock..." -- Roger Goodell, as of now, at the beginning of the 2014 NFL Draft
It begins not long after the previous season ends.
The countless hours spent lifting weights, getting treatment, sometimes even getting surgery. You work out just to be ready for more workouts, the goal of which is to have you ready for training camp. Preseason rolls around and you trudge through the sweltering heat of practice, sometimes twice a day.
Practice, study, treatment, sleep. For weeks on end.
Bumps, bruises, sometimes worse, they begin to accumulate before the season even starts, but the Super Bowl is finally in sight for this group, this nucleus in which so much has been invested, emotionally and financially. So the fatigue each night is a "good" tired.
You endure all of it partially because it's your job, but also because it's part of a tedious, grueling process that may finally, FINALLY, be paying off.
And then 2013 happens. All of the blood, sweat, and tears, and for what? So you can be looking up at Jacksonville in the standings in December?
It would appear so.
When the action in Week 13 of the 2014 NFL season comes to a close on Monday night, the 2-10 Houston Texans will be indeed be looking up at not only Jacksonville, but the other 30 teams in the National Football League as well.
Minnesota? Yep, they won on Sunday, beating the Bears in overtime. Tampa Bay? They've won a couple games recently and are now 3-9 (or as the Texans would call that, "progress"). Atlanta? At 3-9, the Falcons are no longer a bigger disappointment than Houston, they beat Buffalo yesterday. Buffalo, who happens to be 4-8.
And Jacksonville? They came from behind to beat the Browns (4-8 also) on Sunday and are now 3-9.
Last week's loss to Jacksonville was a figurative rock bottom for Houston. Now at 2-10, there's nothing subjective about it anymore.
The Texans are the worst team in football, and when they head to Jacksonville on Thursday night, they'll be trying to climb out of the basement, not just of the AFC South, but of the entire league.
In what was originally circled before the season as a revenge game, in what was supposed to be a barometer for just how battle tested the scars and lumps from last season's beatings at the hands of the Patriots had made them, the Texans instead endured their tenth straight loss, 34-31 at the hands of Darth Brady, Darth Gronk, and Emperor Belichick.
Same old story as the previous two months, just fewer and fewer voices suddenly crying out in terror at Reliant each Sunday.
Offensively, there was progress. The game featured as many second half touchdowns by the Texans as they'd scored in the previous nine games combined. Baby steps, I suppose.
Whereas the last nine games have been marked by complete offensive failure in the second half, this time around, it was the defense's turn to torpedo the Sunday afternoon of the Houston faithful, allowing 14 points in the first seven minutes of the third quarter and 27 second half points overall.
It was bad enough that the unit was plagued by poor tackling (James Develin's touchdown where he was hit by seven different Texans) and fits of mass confusion (Shane Vereen's touchdown to make it 21-17), but the clown show extended to the extracurricular activity after plays and even after the game.
I don't know that I've ever seen a 2-10 team more proud of incomplete passes (forced or unforced, doesn't matter), more bombastic after routine tackles, than these Texans. Patriots Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins said as much after the game:
"Those guys are used to making so many plays, when they're not making plays, they do get frustrated," he said. "Those are guys that every play they make, they have to go celebrate. So if they're not celebrating, if they're not getting that camera time, they get mad."
Translated: For a team with very little to celebrate, the Texans' defense sure does do a lot of celebrating.
Not wanting to leave the clown show out on the field after the final gun sounded, defensive end Antonio Smith went into some meandering, nonsensical diatribe about the Patriots surreptitiously doing something (it's unclear exactly what, other than execute) in the second half to counter new wrinkles that Wade Phillips had installed this week:
"I'm very suspicious," Smith said. "I just think it will be a big coincidence if that just happened by chance. I don't know for sure, but I just know it was something that we practiced this week."
"I can't tell you an example because it's G15 classified," Smith said. "It's a defensive thing that we might continue to use. ... The way, I'm trying to say it without giving it away. When you watch film of the team do something a certain way all the time no matter what team they play -- it's been 12 games played and they always did it -- and then all of a sudden it's changed? It was pretty clever and pretty suspicious."
Antonio, I know that you think the effectiveness of the Patriots' second half countermoves to your first half tactics have to be a result of either their spying on you (because, y'know, Spygate and what not) or Belichick somehow zoning in on your brain waves, but actually those little tweaks by the Patriots are called "adjustments." Most teams routinely employ them. Sorry if the concept is foreign to the Texans' locker room. Not your fault, I suppose.
Sunday evening, the folks at battleredblog.com posed this simple question:
— battleredblog (@battleredblog) December 2, 2013
And perhaps the most depressing part of all this is that the answer to that question unequivocally is "No," at no point on Sunday did I think the Texans were going to win that game. As the Texans built their double digit first half lead, it was just a question of how much the second half wager on the Patriots would be, the only suspense being what area of the roster would cataclysmically fail the Texans this week.
For nine weeks, it had been the offense, and for two seasons it has been the special teams. Sunday, though, was the defense's turn. Tom Brady did everything but walk over and one by one put rubber noses and floppy shoes on Wade Phillips' crew, as he went 18 of 23, 263 yards, two touchdowns, a 143.2 passer rating in the second half.
Brady did just enough to win the game. The Texans did just enough to lose. Same ending, different score.
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And now it's off to Jacksonville for a Thursday night game that may set new lows for viewership. (Doing my part to set that low water mark, I will be at the Justin Timberlake concert during the game. I plan to put a tarp over my couch in honor of Jacksonville's involvement.)
All that's left now for 2013 is keeping the important players healthy, and start scouring mock drafts. It wasn't supposed to be this way. But it is.
The Houston Texans are on the clock....
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.