Now these are the Houston Texans we've grown to know and not love.
A week after uncharacteristically taking care of business in a game they were supposed to do so against Oakland, the Texans laid an egg in the desert on Sunday, losing 28-21 to Arizona. But of course, that only tells part of the story. It wouldn't be the Texans if they lost with ease, as they appeared destined to with a 21-0 deficit at the half.
Nope, the Texans in the Gary Kubiak era specialize in losing in the most heartbreaking and spectacular ways possible, such as fumbling on the 1-yard line down seven with two minutes to go against Jacksonville. The Texans excel at getting your hopes up, only to drive the knife into your heart at the most inopportune of moments.
It happened Sunday over and over again.
After rallying from the 21-0 hole to tie the score and forcing the Cardinals into a three-and-out, the Texans appeared destined to kick a winning field goal with minimal time remaining. Except quarterback Matt Schaub, who played brilliantly for most of the second half, threw a wrench into the plan by lobbing an out route to Arizona's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who returned it for a TD to put the Cards back in front.
Over? Of course not. The Texans moved down the field with ease, to the 1-yard line -- where Schaub overthrew a wide-open Joel Dreessen on third-and-goal, setting up fourth down.
You knew what was coming. You also knew what the result would be.
The Texans handed it to their supposed "short-yardage" back Chris Brown, the same Brown who fumbled away the Jacksonville game from a yard out. Brown had no hole, was turned away, and the Texans fell to 2-3 in a game they desperately needed and should have had.
There's plenty of blame to go around, but in this case, it starts with Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the call of a fourth down run up the middle, and one simple question.
How many times are the Texans going to be turned away on a 3rd- or 4th-and-short before they give this up? It's common sense. The Texans, under Alex Gibbs' zone-blocking scheme, sacrificed brute force and size on the offensive line for agility and speed. In other words, they opted against traditional power football in the box in favor of more counters, traps and single-cut schemes.
That can work well in intermediate situations, such as 1st- or 2nd-and-10. The tradeoff, however, is that the team lacks the interior line strength to move defensive linemen directly up the middle in obvious running situations.
But that hasn't stopped Shanahan from running in those spots. They were turned away on a 3rd-and-1 late in the first half when Slaton went to the left side and gained nothing, setting up the Cardinals' second touchdown.
They were turned away late in the Jacksonville game, when Brown was stopped and then fumbled. And on Sunday, with everything hanging in the balance, Shanahan went to the game's most predictable play with an offensive line suited for anything but.
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For his part, Kubiak doesn't escape the blame. He's stood by Shanahan repeatedly, for starters, while emphasizing that these Texans and their massively undersized offensive line should be a "run-first" team. But more importantly, his Texans came out completely uninspired and undisciplined, just as they did in their first road game in Tennessee. The outstanding second half should have blown the Cards away, and would have -- if not for the enormous hole the Texans dug themselves early.
Moreover, the Texans continue to beat themselves with elementary mistakes. It starts, but doesn't end, with the 4th-and-1 dive. It also includes 50-plus yards in penalties, as well as the timeout Kubiak mysteriously called with 1:27 left when the Texans had a first and goal, assuring the Cardinals plenty of time to score a game-winning field goal even if the Texans had scored themselves.
As a whole, the Texans continue to play Jekyll and Hyde -- phenomenal for half of a game, and utterly terrible for the other. It speaks to a lack of consistent focus -- a defining characteristic of the Kubiak era and of a team destined for continued 8-8 mediocrity.
Unless things change dramatically and soon, the franchise also seems destined for a new coach and starting all over (again!) come 2010.