HOUSTON -- One player lingered as the activity increased to a frenzy on the field at Reliant Stadium. Duane Brown couldn't quite bring himself to go into the locker room with his head coach having collapsed.
He kept watching as medical personnel surrounded Gary Kubiak, as they spoke to him and prepared to send him to the hospital.
"They were just trying to get everybody to come inside," Brown said. "I was trying to go back and check on him. That’s not something you expect to hear or see. I stayed out an extra three to five minutes just looking, watching them huddle.
"I was so confused. Just panicked. As a player you see a guy go down, it’s usually football related. When you see a coach go down, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s scary. You don’t expect that. You can’t prepare for that. I was just kind of confused and kind of nervous. Scared, hoping everything would be all right. It’s kind of hard to focus on football that’s our family, right there."
While he watched, the rest of his teammates were filing in to the locker room, some had seen Kubiak fall and helped alert others. Word spread into tunnel that someone had collapsed, outside linebacker Brooks Reed thought it was a player at first. Word traveled to the training room where Andre Johnson was getting an IV, that it was a coach, but nobody knew which coach. Then someone went running in shouting through the tunnel and into the locker room for a trainer because Kubiak was down.
"It's an extremely difficult situation," Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said. "Your thoughts are with your coach. You want to go out there and win the football game."
Said right guard Brandon Brooks: "We definitely tried to go out there and win the game, and especially do it for Coach Kubiak."
A scare is a scare, even though the players learned Kubiak was in stable condition before the second half began. The mood on the field was one of sincere concern. Kubiak was transported to a local hospital, with his family beside him, and underwent tests while there.
This affected the players, some more than others. It's only natural with so many unknowns about a coach and friend.
"That isn't an excuse for what we did out there in the second half," left guard Wade Smith said.
At halftime the Texans led the division-leading Indianapolis Colts 21-3. They'd made spectacular plays on offense (Case Keenum and Johnson connected on three touchdowns, for one thing), defense (sacked Colts quarterback Andrew Luck three times) and special teams (a blocked field goal by Watt) all before halftime.
It seemed that the lackluster start to the season was behind Houston, the turnaround was here, even with starting running back Arian Foster tucked away in the locker room having suffered yet another injury. A third straight division title was back within the Texans' grasp and the season was on its way to being closer to what so many envisioned back in August and September.
It seemed that way until a second half in which Luck's passer rating improved from 46.5 in the first half to 114.4. Keenum's passer rating dropped from 136.8 to 90.8, still respectable, but not nearly as productive with the plays now being called from the press box where offensive coordinator Rick Dennison sat. Third-down efficiency fell on offense and rose against the Texans' defense. And Luck threw three touchdown passes to T.Y. Hilton on the way to a 27-24 victory.
And still, the Texans could have orchestrated what would now qualify as a stunning victory, had it not been for three missed field goals by their woebegone kicker, Randy Bullock. He missed a 55-yarder that would have tied the game as time expired, but he also missed two earlier kicks, from 43 and 49 yards out.
"We made all the big plays in the first half and they made the big plays in the second half," said defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who took over as interim head coach at halftime. "I thought our young quarterback … the guy played outstanding. I thought he played really well for us. Their quarterback hit 18 out of 40, but he hit the big plays at the right time. … Randy struggled field goal kicking-wise, and that ended up hurting us at the end of the ballgame."
Now the Texans find themselves at 2-6, which was unthinkable months ago. They are hoping to have Kubiak back with the team on Monday, but that remains an uncertainty.
And more and more it's looking like the grandiose visions many had for this Texans season just aren't meant to be.
To their credit, they aren't willing to admit defeat yet.
"We signed up for the whole season, to play and to work and to coach as hard as we can coach," Phillips said. "And that's what we're going to do with this team. Anybody that wants to give up can, but we're not going to."