HOUSTON -- The Texans ride waves. They crest and, inevitably, they crash.
And because they crest -- as they did with another fantastic second-half comeback -- the crash feels worse. They stumble up from it, struggling to explain the ride.
Matt Schaub threw 62 passes Monday night, pulling Houston back from a three-touchdown deficit to get the Texans into overtime.
Then, backing up under pressure, he threw a terrible ball that washed it all away. It was intended for Jacoby Jones, but it went directly to cornerback Josh Wilson, who coasted 12 yards with the interception return that gave Baltimore a 34-28 win.
Now 8-8 is the best the Texans can muster, a game worse than last year and a mark that’s not going to win the AFC South and earn a playoff spot without a string of miracles to go along with it.
Schaub’s teammates didn’t spend much time on the ugly ending, preferring to marvel at the performance that got them to the spot where it could happen.
“He played, basically, superhuman,” backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. “I mean, you’re not supposed to be able to do that against that defense. The way he played, taking hits and making the throws, the off-schedule plays, him and Andre [Johnson], the whole offense was just unbelievable. For it to end like that, it’s tough to watch. It’s tough to watch a guy who does what he does and not necessarily get rewarded for it.
“He’s as tough as they come and as good in those moments as the best guys in this league. He’s elite with it. He’s done it a lot this year for this team. The guy’s pretty impressive in those moments. He’ll wake up [Tuesday] morning and be sick over it, but move on. You don’t see that stuff in this league, really. You don’t see it.”
Said Arian Foster, who took 20 carries 100 yards: “I’ll ride with him any day of the week.”
Schaub and Texans coach Kubiak said the play that ended the game was one they had run earlier and got them a solid gain to Kevin Walter. But the coverage was different this time, and Schaub said he tried to get it out to give Jones a chance to make a play.
Schaub led Jones too far, squeamish and in fear of a safety as Haloti Ngata bolted through the middle of the line and bore down. Schaub was retreating as he threw, nearing the X in the “Texans” emblazoned across the end zone.
Wilson broke off the outside receiver to snatch it in front of Jones, who was cutting toward the sideline, and easily scored the touchdown. It left the Texans talking about playing their final three games for pride and the Ravens talking about something completely different.
“I believe that play ultimately defines where we're going,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.
The Texans have spent the season digging holes and mounting great comebacks. They won in overtime at Washington after trailing by 17 and beat Kansas City after falling behind by 14.
They came back from significant deficits to take leads at the Jets and at the Eagles only to lose. They came back from a two-touchdown margin in Jacksonville to tie the score only to fall on a Hail Mary as time expired.
“We always have to battle back and make these tremendous runs,” defensive tackle Shaun Cody said. “It wears on you. It’s tough to bounce back from 21 points. You have to be in the game sooner to get our offense a chance to run the ball. We have to play good enough defense.
“I think the biggest emotion is hurt. To lose like that again hurts … It’s a bad world to be in right now.”
Right tackle Eric Winston described the hurt more specifically. He suggested imagining a guy walking down the street only to have someone jump out and kick him in an especially tender, central area.
“That’s honestly the only thing I can compare it to,” he said.
For the bulk of the night, Schaub was engineering the offense without the benefit of Kubiak in his ear as the headset was down. Schaub pieced together what he could hear with signals and his own thinking.
Houston’s touchdown drives covered 80, 99 and 95 yards and one of its two field goal drives covered 70.
“Go back in the record book and find out who’s done that against Baltimore,” Winston said. “And we ran for 100 yards (actually111). You do all that and you expect to win. It comes down to those crucial plays and for whatever reason -- offense, defense, special teams -- we haven’t made them.”
And so they are left to defend their coach under fire, reminding questioners how they are responsible for the plays not made and the results. They are left to come to grips with the fact that a season that was supposed to feature their first playoff berth will be worse than the one before. They are left to swallow another loss that will be tough to keep down.