If the Texans franchise has any hope for the near future, owner Bob McNair had better not frame Monday's stunning overtime loss to Baltimore as more evidence that the team is "close".
That was the rationale in 2009, when the Texans finished 9-7, but were allegedly two-to-three plays from 11-5 or better and a certain postseason appearance. McNair not only stuck with head coach Gary Kubiak, but gave him an extension.
It's one year later, and here we are again.
"REMARKABLE COMEBACK," the headline read on the Texans' website.
Um, maybe the first seven times this happened. Not anymore.
In the big picture, the story of Monday's loss wasn't that the Texans had two 95+ yard scoring drives in the fourth quarter to stage a miraculous comeback. It also wasn't that one ill-fated toss from quarterback Matt Schaub in overtime.
Instead, it's that a miraculous comeback and overtime were even necessary in the first place.
Going up against one of the perceived elite teams in the NFL, the Texans nearly doubled the Ravens in total yards. The offense put up 491 yards against a superb Baltimore unit, while the much-maligned Houston defense held the Ravens' offense to 253 yards and no points after the half.
On paper, the Texans dominated one of the best teams in the league.
On the field, they lost again and fell to 5-8. It's the sixth loss in seven games after a 4-2 start.
"It's disturbing because that's happened too many times," Kubiak said after the game.
That's not coming close. That's a gap the size of massive Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
On Monday, the quarterback that led two of the best drives in franchise history in the fourth quarter struggled to generate a single first down for the first 28 minutes of the game. Schaub had the awareness to step up in the pocket and deliver strikes on the last-second touchdown and two-point conversion, yet inexplicably took a first-half sack to remove his team from field goal range and eventually tossed a season-ending pick-six.
It's not just Schaub, of course. Andre Johnson is probably the best receiver in the NFL, yet his drop-turned-interception capped an epic loss to San Diego in November.
The young defense has shown flashes over the past month, shutting out Tennessee and blanking Baltimore after the half. And somehow, that same group couldn't even defend a 50-yard Hail Mary against Jacksonville and surrendered 70 yards in 35 seconds with no timeouts to the Jets.
The big-picture story is in how Texans have made such inexplicable things routine. At least eight times since September 2009, they've suffered improbable final-second losses that most fans would consider once-a-season (some once-a-decade) type heartbreaks.
It's clear that the issues won't be solved with experience, and are more than merely bad luck.
Something within the leadership and structure of the organization is deeply, terribly flawed for the talent to be so disconnected from the record and for a team to be so historically inept in pressure moments, only seconds after appearing dominant.
So for McNair, focusing on the heart the Texans showed in their furious second-half rally on Monday night would be using a short-term lens on a long-term problem.
The real problems with the Texans are nowhere close to being fixed, and might actually be getting worse.
Perhaps those problems run deeper than Kubiak. But after nine seasons without postseason football, Houston fans at least deserve to find out.
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