"I told them that we're playing for our pride these next three weeks, and there's a hell of a lot of pride in that room. We will play well. We will work hard and we will play well." -- Gary Kubiak after Monday night's 34-28 loss to the Baltimore Ravens
And with that, up went the white flag on the Houston Texans' 2010 season, a season that started with cautious (and in retrospect, unjustified) hope and ended up as a pile of battle red rubble underneath the weight of Josh Wilson's interception return for a touchdown in overtime on Monday.
Oh sure, in the mathematical corner of the NFL universe the Texans still exist. They're the mangled guy on the stretcher in the corner, comatose and displaying a slight pulse. Sure, if Jacksonville loses to the Colts this weekend, and if the Colts lose their other two games, and if Gary Kubiak gets lost on the way to the stadium for the rest of the month, and if Glee wins all five Golden Globe nominations, and if and if and if...then the Texans will just need five other things to happen the last Sunday of the season to make the playoffs.
Sadly, history tells us the Texans will actually hold up their end of the bargain, and do just enough to finish 8-8. After all, December is their month.
Because this is what they do. The Texans are predictable. The Texans are infuriating. It's why something as tongue in cheek as "Texans Mad Libs" actually works.
The Texans' 2010 season is now a microcosm of every loss they've endured the last few weeks -- sleepwalk through the entire first act, lifeless and confused, until your survival instincts kick in long enough to be mediocre. Because really isn't a 5-8 team that scrambles to get to 8-8 and possibly save their coach's job for the third straight season just a collection of comebacks from double-digit deficits only to lose on a last second Hail Mary or a busted coverage with 20 seconds left or a pick-six in overtime?
A head coach's job from week to week is to motivate and put his players in the best position to succeed. As he attempts to do those things, the big picture function of a head coach transpires organically -- the culture of the organization is established. A team's culture is born of the sum total of what you're doing and how you're doing it week to week.
The Texans' culture under Gary Kubiak has evolved into the worst possible scenario -- complete fundamental mistrust between the team (more specifically the coaching staff) and the fans. When Matt Schaub hit Jacoby Jones in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion to tie the game at 28 on Monday night, the prevailing sentiment among Texans fans was "Okay, there are still 29 seconds left for them to screw this up."
This "Oh shit, what's gonna happen now" reaction is completely justified negativity. It's Pavlovian -- Texans fans are the dogs, Matt Schaub's gajillion second-half yards and touchdown pass in the waning moments are the bell ringing, and our tweets and texts of impending doom are the drool.
Because we lived through 2009. We lived through Chris Brown fumbling at the one against the Jaguars. We lived through Chris Brown getting stuffed at the one against the Cardinals. We lived through the other Kris Brown, the one with a K, missing game-tying field goals in season-altering games against the Colts and the Titans.
Then 2010 rolled around, and just when you thought the Texans had cured the late game woes in wins over the Redskins and the Chiefs, Andre Johnson bounces a ball off his knee against the Chargers, Glover Quin bats a ball into Mike Thomas' arms on a Hail Mary, the Texans let the Jets walk down the field in 45 seconds, and in a final spectacular act of self-mutilation Matt Schaub throws the game and the season into the arms of Josh Wilson on Monday night.
Indeed, if the Texans 2010 season were the next installment of the Jackass series, then Monday's overtime was Steve-O driving a golf cart into a pool of alligators with the jaws of life and five staplers dangling from his nuts.
This is the Texans' culture -- 53 hard-working guys trying to survive the National Football League gauntlet being led by a man whose only solution to the problem is to just keep working hard and do the same goddamn fucking thing over and over and over again. Because eventually, he thinks, it may work.
The Texans come out with a collective blank stare at the beginning of games because their leader has no new answers, and only when the players' Darwinian instincts kick in and the game plan has been scrapped for "whatever it takes to catch up" does their execution match their talent.
Gary Kubiak was right about one thing. This team will work hard. They'll work hard because they have high character, they're proud, and because frankly it's the only thing they've been taught to do. It's the only thing their coach really knows how to do -- work hard. Good luck with that.
With this group of players, merely "working hard" is good enough to get you to 8-8. And 8-8 is just not good enough.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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