- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: The end of the road for the Texans, who finish 13-5. A season that once looked like it could end at the Super Bowl in New Orleans crumbled at the end, with two losses at New England in five weeks. This is a team that is still not complete enough to rank as a legitimate championship contender and that certainly doesn’t measure up to the Patriots.
What I didn’t like: Matt Schaub had his moments, but there is no way to come out of this game convinced he’s a championship quarterback. On one panicked scramble, he simply dropped the ball. Later he threw a pass for James Casey that had no chance not to be intercepted by dropping end Rob Ninkovich. The Texans took too long to figure out how to get their run game going, while Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen consistently hurt the defense. The Texans overestimated their ability to contain Wes Welker based on what they did in the first meeting and he ate them up with eight catches for 131 yards. Tom Brady topped 300 yards against a pass rush and defensive backfield that couldn’t do much to slow him at crucial moments.
What I did like: Arian Foster carried 22 times for 90 yards and a touchdown and caught seven passes for 63 yards and another score. Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 95 yards and grabbed a 2-point conversion. The return games were a major highlight, but Danieal Manning lacks breakaway speed that could have turned big returns into touchdowns. The two scores for 10 points late in the first half to get it to 17-13 at intermission were impressive. But the Patriots came out of the break, drove to a touchdown on the opening possession of the third quarter and never looked back. Houston fought to within 38-28 in the fourth quarter, and they can talk about fighting to the end.
A lot of breaks: Gary Kubiak won a fourth-quarter challenge that resulted in a 25-yard DeVier Posey touchdown reception. Bill Belichick lost a fourth-quarter challenge on a fourth-down spot that went in Houston’s favor. The Texans also had a Foster touchdown run upheld. Owen Daniels got away with what looked like a fumble when officials made a quick call on forward progress being stopped. Patriots receiver Brandon Lloyd was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for throwing a ball at an official when he may have just been tossing it back to a zebra who wasn’t looking. The Texans may have gotten away with a running into the kicker penalty after a Zoltan Mesko punt. Even with all those going in their favor, the Texans couldn’t finish closer than 13.
What’s next: This team needs an honest assessment of where it stands, and that means some additions of note in the offseason beyond the return of Brian Cushing. The Texans platooned mediocre people at right tackle and right guard and need to get at least one big-time guy who fits their system to plug in there, not count on the development of the three youngsters involved to graduate into solid players. They need depth at the inside linebacker and the secondary needs an upgrade. Better mental toughness and play in the clutch from Schaub is a lot to ask, but is something else they need to have a chance in games like this. They could wind up in more of a fight with Indianapolis for the AFC South crown than battling teams like New England for AFC supremacy.