It's often noted how the difference between the 7-7 Texans and an 11-3 powerhouse is two Kris Brown kicks and two conversions of a single yard.
Turns out, the difference between 7-7 and 1-13 isn't all that great, either.
As the Texans seem to do in late-season road games where they're heavily favored (see Oakland 2008), the overwhelming disinterest on Sunday from fans in St. Louis was nearly matched by the lack of intensity from Houston on the field. Tight end Joel Dreessen dropped a routine touchdown, running back Arian Foster and quarterback Matt Schaub carelessly lost two fumbles, and Texans' corners at times were burned by a third-string rookie QB.
Even so, there was one huge difference between this year's Rams game and last year's Raiders tussle. This year, they won. And in a sport without a BCS where style points are nearly irrelevant, that's enough to keep their playoff hopes alive.
"A 'W' is a 'W' in this league," Schaub said in a postgame quotes release by the team. "Any team can beat anyone in this league on any given day if you don't execute and you don't play good football. We were able to get some big plays down field and we were able to execute at the end."
Execute is a relative term, of course. In a tie game, two bombs of 30 and 44 yards from Schaub to Andre Johnson had the Texans rolling midway through the fourth quarter. But two confusing playcalls - a first-down draw (with a maddeningly ineffective running game) and a wide receiver screen on third-and-long - forced them to settle for a 28-yard Kris Brown field goal.
That kick, however, proved to be enough. The Texans' slumbering pass rush finally awakened behind Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin, forcing a punt and allowing the offense to run out the clock in the 16-13 victory.
"It was the same situation we had in Buffalo (where Houston trailed 10-6 at the half) where we knew as a team we should have been beaten and we went in halftime down," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "We knew that what was going on was uncharacteristic of the Texans."
While that last statement is certainly questionable, uncharacteristic would be a fair adjective to sum up other results around the league Sunday, as they related to the Texans' playoff chase. The Jets dominated the Falcons for much of their game, but a trifecta of botched field goals kept Atlanta within striking distance. Then, Matt Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez for a fourth-and-goal touchdown in the final two minutes, dropping the Jets (7-7) into a tie with Houston. The Broncos led hapless Oakland for nearly all of the second half, before a two-minute touchdown drive from JaMarcus Russell - yes, that JaMarcus Russell - dropped Denver to 8-6 with a game at Philadelphia looming.
Likewise, the Jaguars looked as good or better than the Colts on Thursday - but a pair of big plays late kept the Colts unbeaten and put the Jags (7-7) in a tie with the Texans.
Every single one of those games appeared poised to go against the Texans' interests at one point or another. Yet somehow, the final results ended up doing what they never seem to do - benefiting the Texans, even when they required immense luck and good fortune to do so.
It's still a longshot for the Texans to get to the postseason. But the Jets, Jaguars and Titans are all likely to be substantial underdogs to the Colts, Patriots and Chargers, respectively. If those go as planned, the route becomes very simple.
The Texans must win their last two - in Miami and home to New England - and hope one of Baltimore (at Pittsburgh, at Oakland) or Denver (at Philadelphia, home to Kansas City) loses out.
Neither can be considered likely, but both are certainly possible. It would take luck, but certainly no more than the Texans' own survival and help received on Sunday - the likes of which haven't gone this franchise's way over the past seven years.
At the very least, given the particularly difficult road games for the Ravens (8-6) and Broncos next week, the Texans do seem to control their own destiny to be in the playoff discussion entering the season's final week.
That may not be the level of progress Houston fans expected, but baby steps are an enormous improvement from the mood just two Sundays ago.
"No matter how we got it, the fact that we got it is what matters," defensive end Mario Williams said.
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