Be sure to check out the rest of our pics from Sunday's game.
When one step forward is immediately followed by one step back, perpetual mediocrity is the usual result.
It has defined the Gary Kubiak era of Houston Texans football, and it reared its ugly head again on Sunday.
Yes, the Texans (3-2) were missing Andre Johnson and Mario Williams due to injury. No, that did not give them an appropriate excuse to lose to Oakland (3-2) at home.
The Texans outgained the Raiders by nearly 200 total yards (473-278). Trailing by a possession in the fourth quarter, the Texan defense forced back-to-back three-and-outs.
On the other side, Matt Schaub and the Houston offense -- even without Johnson -- completed a series of spectacular plays to repeatedly put itself in position to tie and win the game.
Only each one was followed by a disturbing misstep, as they have so often been in five-plus Kubiak seasons. Flashes of brilliance followed by inexcusable ineptitude. Maddening inconsistency leading to consistent mediocrity.
These are the Houston Texans, until proven otherwise.
"We were just trying to overcome mistakes all the time," Kubiak said. "Snap problems, penalties, tipped balls. Just seemed like it was one thing after another all day long. "
Down 25-17 with four minutes remaining, the Texans were given renewed life when a pass interference penalty wiped away an incompletion on fourth down. It set them up on the Oakland 13, needing a touchdown to potentially tie.
Schaub faked a draw to Arian Foster and went playaction, and fullback Lawrence Vickers -- filling in for the injured James Casey -- was wide open in the flat. It likely would've been the touchdown they needed.
Dropped. No Raider was within five yards of Vickers.
Three plays later, the Texans had to settle for a field goal to bring them within five.
After holding the Raiders to another three-and-out, a hurried tempo caught the Raiders napping. Schaub adeptly snapped the ball with 12 defenders on the field. But that penalty was offset by an illegal hands to the face violation from guard Mike Brisiel.
Facing a first-and-25, the Texans pulled another rabbit out of the hat. A 26-yard strike to Kevin Walter was followed by a 15-yard late hit from Richard Seymour.
The Texans were inside the Oakland 30 with 54 seconds left, all the momentum on their side.
But usually reliable center Chris Myers airmailed a snap over Schaub, sending the Texans back 14 yards.
Still undaunted, the ensuing Schaub heave was pulled down inside the 5-yard line by Joel Dreessen, giving them at least one realistic shot to win the game with seven seconds to go.
"That's what you want," Dreessen said. "That's what the NFL is all about. We watched Buffalo do it to the Raiders all week watching film. We thought we had them. That's situational football."
Flushed from the pocket on the next play, Schaub might have had a chance to run for the game-winning score. Whatever the odds, they were better than completing an off-balance shovel pass to a blanketed Jacoby Jones.
The pass, of course, was picked, and the Texans blew a golden opportunity to go three games above .500 for the first time in franchise history.
"We need to be able to focus and execute every part of the game," tight end Owen Daniels said. "Every point and time in the game, first snaps to the last snaps. It doesn't matter how pressure packed the situation is, how much we need the yard or whatever it is; we need to focus and execute."
Kubiak and Schaub stressed after the game that the Raiders controlled the line of scrimmage, overwhelming the usually solid Texans offensive line and consistently putting them in difficult spots.
Only the Texans did the hard work. They repeatedly put themselves, despite those odds and a late deficit, in position to win. The door was wide open.
But each and every time they had a chance to waltz through, someone fell on their face with an embarrassing and inexcusable miscue.
In a vacuum, each mistake could be justified. In the big picture, the trend is worrisome.
"It's frustrating, really frustrating," said Foster. "We feel like we need to take the next step for this organization."
This game doesn't have to define the 2011 Texans. If any game from 2010 was a parallel to this one, it was Week 6 when another middling AFC West team (Kansas City) came to Reliant.
In that game, the Chiefs led for much of the second half, but the Texan defense forced a late punt and the offense marched down the field for the winning score, caught by the now-absent Andre Johnson.
Schaub played the part of hero.
All the confidence and good feeling from that win, however, was wiped away by meltdowns against San Diego, Jacksonville and New York over the next month.
One clutch win didn't send the 2010 Texans over the hump, just as one late choke job won't by itself doom the 2011 Texans.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
They have every opportunity to redeem themselves soon, with key conference matchups at Baltimore and Tennessee in the next two weeks.
But for a locker room and community craving a chance to believe, the Texans at some point have to be able to follow up success with more success.
It didn't on Sunday, and the franchise's biggest question mark remains very much unanswered.
Check out the updated Texans' Game Card here.