Even things that appear to be perfect somehow end up wrong in the bizarre world of Houston Texans football.
The Texans on Sunday found a new way to lose, putting forth another strong candidate for worst loss in franchise history. And this time, it wasn't even completely their fault. After scoring what should have been the tying touchdown twice in the closing minutes against Jacksonville (1-2), the NFL's officiating crew took it away both times, leading to a 31-24 loss in Reliant Stadium.
Trailing by seven with under three minutes to go, Matt Schaub found tight end Joel Dreessen for the tying score on first-and-goal - only to have it negated when Kevin Walter was flagged on a bizarre penalty for his "pick" while brushing a Jacksonville defender - several yards away from the play - on a crossing route in the end zone.
"I don't know how you get a call for offensive pass interference when a team is playing zone," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.
Even with that punch to the gut, the Texans (1-2) recovered. Schaub rifled a pass over the middle to David Anderson, setting them up at the 2. On the next play, the Texans' supposed short-yardage specialist, Chris Brown, took a handoff, and to appeared cross the goal line with his knee down before the ball came loose.
Nonetheless, the officials didn't see either of those, even with the benefit of instant replay. And like most elements of Sunday's game for the Texans, even the replay was a disaster. While it appeared obvious that Brown was both down and over the plane, there was no direct goal-line angle from the right side of the field, which complicated the review. The on-field call of a fumble was confirmed, and the Texans went home losers.
"I think that's a game that we've got to win at home," tight end Owen Daniels said. "I thought we learned from that last year."
For the Texans, this one is tough to take. Playoff teams don't lose at home to teams like the Jets and Jaguars - both of whom missed the postseason a year ago. Despite the officiating, playoff defenses don't allow themselves to be shredded for 31 points by a Jacksonville offense that averaged just 14 points in two games against the Colts and Cardinals and lacks any kind of go-to receiver.
Playoff teams also don't start the likes of cornerback Fred Bennett, who whiffed repeatedly on both run and pass plays and came as close to single-handedly losing a game as any non-quarterback can.
Moreover, the loss was made worse because it came in spite of numerous positives. Schaub continued his brilliant play, throwing for three touchdowns (had four, if not for the awful call) and 300 yards. The Texans offensive line finally figured out how to run block, and Steve Slaton responded, rushing 12 times for 76 yards. Walter returned from injury and made an immediate impact, catching seven balls for 96 yards.
Somehow, all that still wasn't enough for a win, even at home against a previously winless Jacksonville team considered among the league's worst.
"When you lose the ones you think you should have won, it definitely hurts more," Slaton said.
In a broader sense, it's yet another example of Kubiak's Texans not being able to handle success. After winning the first two games of 2007, they were beaten up by the Colts in a much-hyped week 3 tilt at Reliant and lost Andre Johnson to injury for several games.
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Likewise, the Texans heard playoff talk before each of the last two years, only to go a combined 1-5 in September. And late last season, after rebounding from a 3-7 start to go 7-7 with a chance to post the team's first winning record, they stunningly collapsed in Oakland.
In the latest chapter, the Texans appeared poised to capture the city's heart with a gutsy, come-from-behind effort last week in Tennessee - only to follow it with more heartbreak.
It wasn't entirely their fault, of course. But for Kubiak and the Texans, the time for moral victories has long, long passed.
"It's devastating," defensive end Mario Williams said. "Especially after what we did last week. Ain't nothing you can talk about. You've just got to make the plays."