SAN FRANCISCO -- The mind is a funny thing, especially in sports.
It can subvert or bolster ability and skill. Confidence can change a lot, so can the lack of it.
After a thorough 34-3 drubbing at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night, the Texans rushed through their postgame obligations, and no players spoke at the podium. Instead, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub stood at his locker searching for the answers everyone else sought, speaking softly and deliberately. He was asked about his confidence. Schaub's head swayed slightly before he answered.
"Obviously, it's tough right now," the Texans' starting quarterback said honestly. "After what we've been through tonight, going back to last weekend and even the week before. I am very confident in my ability and everyone in this locker room."
Schaub left the game just as he began it -- with the public confidence of his coach and his teammates. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Schaub is still the Texans' starting quarterback. But this time, it followed a game in which Schaub became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a pick-six in four consecutive games. Sunday night, he threw it on his first pass. This time, it came during a three-interception performance that could have been four. This time, for the first time in a long while, Schaub never looked comfortable.
The Texans do not need a perfect quarterback to make a deep playoff run or even win it all. They do not need Schaub to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. They do need him to turn back into the player he was early last season and late in San Diego and late against Tennessee this season. They need him to be the guy who got them a 20-3 lead against the Seattle Seahawks.
That answer lies in the answer to this: What is Matt Schaub's mental state?
That is what this is about. It is not about his ability but whether Schaub can mentally move past four bad quarters. Kubiak mercifully removed him from Sunday's game at the end of the third quarter with the Texans already down 24-3 -- allowing T.J. Yates to finish Houston's second prime-time game of the season.
"I think it was time for him [Yates] to get some reps," Kubiak said. "Obviously, Matt took some hits and made some mistakes. And I just told him I was going to put T.J. in the game -- and we're going to go from there and talk about it after the game or throughout the course of the week and see where we're at."
Schaub finished with a passer rating of 32.2. He completed 19 of 35 passes for 173 yards and three interceptions. San Francisco safety Eric Reid dropped a fourth would-be interception. Schaub was sacked only once, and on that third-quarter play, he scrambled forward into the pressure, creating some where there was none.
All of Schaub's interceptions in San Francisco were on passes that traveled fewer than 10 yards. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's pick-six was on a short throw, too.
"Maybe it's something they see on film," receiver Andre Johnson said. "Something they study on film and figure out and maybe something that we're doing offensively that we may not know we're doing."
The way Schaub carried himself this week indicated he had left behind his dismal finish to the Seattle loss. He knew it was bad and was ready to move on from it, but it seemed like his latest pick-six brought back the ghosts.
"The corner fell off of Keshawn [Martin] and jumped the route. He made a good play," Schaub said.
San Francisco corner Tramaine Brock kept the ball after his first NFL touchdown.
"We really didn't see that in film during the week," he said. "But we always call '55' and run a trap. But we really didn't know that was going to come right then."
Kubiak said Sunday that this better be rock bottom for the Texans, who are now facing their first losing record since the end of the 2010 season.
Schaub insisted rock bottom was here. He talked about how hard they all worked and how hard he personally had worked.
"I'm better than I'm playing," he said.
You know what? He is right.
But if he cannot rewire himself mentally, it will not matter how good he can be. For the Texans, all that matters is what he actually does. His mind will determine that.