It's often said the difference between a 6-10 and 10-6 team in the NFL is a small handful of plays. Sitting at 2-10 on the season, the Houston Texans' problems certainly transcend more than just a play here and a play there. That much is obvious.
But at 2-7 in games decided by one score or less, the Texans are probably closer to respectability than your usual 2-10 outfit (well, closer to what constitutes "respectability" in the AFC in 2013, where about half the conference is 5-7 or 6-6). Perhaps this explains, in part, why even at 2-10, the Texans are still a three-point favorite in Jacksonville (a sterling 3-9, if you need them) on Thursday night.
Sunday's Texans game against the Patriots was a perfect illustration of what ails this team when winning time rolls around. Tied 31-31 with a little over seven minutes to go, after Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicked the first of his two 53-yard field goals to tie the game up, the Texans took over at their own 20 yard line.
This is the point where good teams (like the Texans from Week 7 of 2011 through Week 13 of 2012) would line up, run the football, burn clock and go get points.
Unfortunately, the 2013 Texans are not a good team and what transpired once the score was tied at 31 apiece was a barrage of physical and mental errors that make up the polar opposite of the description of the Texans' team in the previous paragraph.
If you're wanting to learn more about football futility, observe "How To Lose A Game In Ten Plays," by the 2013 Houston Texans.
Here are the ten plays (or decisions) that turned a 31-31 opportunity into a 34-31 heartbreaker (although admittedly, my heart is getting less and less breakable with each passing week): 1. 7:16 remaining, Texans 1-10-HOU 20: Keenum incomplete pass (G. Graham drop) In a game being played with each team scoring in the low 30's, where your opponents have scored their last 24 points in less than 22 minutes and scored on every drive of the second half, it's important to answer with some points. Momentum at the beginning of the ensuing drive is key. On this play, Case Keenum bought himself time on a rollout, made a strong throw across his body, only to see Garrett Graham drop a very catchable ball that would have put the Texans in 2nd and short, and gotten the drive off to a positive start.
2. 7:06 remaining, Texans 1-10-HOU 20: Keenum incomplete pass (A. Johnson drop) Even after that first down mishap by Graham, Keenum gave the Texans a chance to begin moving the ball down the field on second down as he threw a 15-yard curl route to Andre Johnson that hit the future Hall of Famer in the hands, only to be dropped. So if you're keeping track, the Texans answered the Patriots' tying points with two drops in their next two plays from scrimmage.
3. 5:30 remaining, Patriots 3-3-NE 40: Brady complete to Gronkowski for 17 yards Still tied at 31, and with a chance to get off the field on third down, Texans safety D.J. Swearinger gambled trying to knock down a quick slant route to Gronkowski. Swearinger was a split second too late and his overcommitment allowed Gronkowski to tack another 12 yard run onto his 5 yard catch, putting the Patriots close to Gostkowski's field goal range.
4. 4:05 remaining, Texans burn timeout #1 on defense (2-10-HOU 43 for New England) Total amateur hour. Earlier in the half, the Texans' mass confusion on defense led to a wide open Shane Vereen on a Patriots touchdown to make it 21-17. This time, similar confusion ensued as the Texans were caught making late substitutions and had to burn a timeout to avoid a penalty for too many men on the field. This timeout would loom large later in the quarter when the Texans sure would have been able to use another 40 seconds or so. (As an aside, as if the delta on the scoreboard in both games last season weren't evidence enough, the contrast between the businesslike machine of the Patriots' sideline and the Chinese fire drill of the Texans' sideline was on full display on Sunday.)
5. 3:15 remaining, Gostkowski 53 yd FG Not only was this field goal literally the winning points in the game, but with his second 53-yard field goal in about four minutes, Gostkowski provided a reminder of how inept Randy Bullock has been from similar distance for the Texans all season (1 of 5 overall from 50 yards or more).
6. 2:52 remaining, Texans 1-10-HOU 45: Hand off Ben Tate, loss of 2 yards Unlike the previous drive, where the Texans dropped Keenum's first two passes, on this drive Keenum was able to zip two big-time passes to Andre Johnson (10 yards and 15 yards) to get the Texans up near midfield. Any positive mojo, though, was squelched on the next play, as the offensive line collapsed on a Ben Tate run to the left, putting the Texans behind the chains and setting up the popcorn fart of an ending to this game.
7. 2:13 remaining, Texans 3-12-HOU 43: Case Keenum incomplete pass (intended for G. Graham) After a second down incompletion in the direction of DeAndre Hopkins (that may have been pass interference), the Texans went with a play on third down that had very little chance of success, as Keenum overthrew tight end Garrett Graham by about ten feet on a pattern where the sideline essentially created another Patriot defender and where wide receiver Keshawn Martin crowded Graham a mere few yards away. An eminently defendable play that the Patriots had to do very little to stop.
8. 2:07 remaining, Texans burn timeout #2, 4-12-HOU 43 So much wrong with this. First of all, if he planned on going for it on fourth down, why was Gary Kubiak calling a play on third down where Keenum was throwing a moderately deep, all-or-nothing out pattern to Graham? Why not throw a higher percentage pass on third down and give yourself a much more manageable fourth down (or maybe even pick up the first down on a run after the catch)? Second, is making sure that you are organized and in the right play call on fourth down really worth calling timeout and basically cashing a coupon for 40 seconds of game clock? Seriously, what was accomplished in that huddle on the sidelines with Kubiak and Keenum during those 30 seconds that gave the Texans any added advantage? Doesn't the timeout also give the Patriots a chance to get organized as well? I only ask because, well....
9. 2:07 remaining, Texans 4-12-HOU 43: Case Keenum incomplete pass (while getting buried) Glad you burned that timeout, Kubes. Good thing you got organized before running the play, otherwise Keenum would have been snowed under in even less than the two seconds it took the Patriots to devour him in the pocket. And devour him by rushing just four guys, by the way. Five blockers, four pass rushers, two seconds to obliterate the Texans' quarterback. Sounds about right.
(Adding insult to injury, the first Patriot to get a hand on Keenum was rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones, who the Texans drafted in the sixth round and then cut during the preseason. He is now starting for the Patriots. So go ahead and add "reminder of personnel screwups" to the list of ineptitude categories that the Texans fulfilled during the final seven minutes of this game.)
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10. 0:22 remaining, Patriots 4-7-HOU 39: Patriots punt, ball downed downed at HOU 5 At this point, the game had been decided, but it's worth noting that the Texans were making boneheaded mistakes right up until the final gun, as somehow the Patriots managed to kill 15 seconds (of 22 remaining seconds) on a 34-yard punt that wasn't even returned by the Texans. In fact, the ball bounced on the five yard line and the Texans still let nine seconds run off of a clock that had only 16 seconds left when the ball hit the turf.
Mental errors, tactical miscues, blocking screwups, pass drops. Add it all up, and you have a 34-31 Patriots victory. This is how you become 2-10. This is how you secure the first pick in the draft.
These are your Texans.
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.