HOUSTON -- Nearly three full seasons into their existence and, in some quarters of the Houston Texans locker room on Sunday evening, it wasn't especially difficult to locate the mounting frustration that comes with a lack of discernable progress.
This was supposed to have been the season in which the Texans either began to look like a fringe postseason contender or, at the very least, finished off the foundation that would serve as the springboard for a 2005 playoff campaign. But the 23-14 loss to Indianapolis here means the Texans won't finish above .500 and that Houston will need to win all of its last three outings to avoid a third straight losing season.
For some Texans players, particularly the veterans who have been around for much of the losing, the situation is bordering on unacceptable.
"All we ever talk about is the positive stuff that we can take away from a loss," defensive end Gary Walker said, shaking his head. "Well, you can get some positive stuff from a win, too. It's time to start winning and that's the bottom line. Whatever we need to do to get in line, we have to do. It gets old beating yourself."
If that were literally the case, then Walker and his teammates would be able to challenge Methuselah for seniority, so self-inflicted were many of their wounds Sunday afternoon.
There were five false-start penalties, four of them by three different offensive linemen. On two of Indianapolis' five sacks, left tackle Seth Wand and right guard Zach Wiegert whiffed badly. Defensively, despite limiting the Colts' explosive attack to its lowest point production of the season, there were at least five missed tackles.
All of those things conspired, in part, to render moot a fairly stout performance by the Houston defense, especially rookie cornerback Dunta Robinson, and also by second-year tailback Domanick Davis on the offensive side.
Davis accounted for nearly three-quarters of the Houston offensive output of 273 yards, rushing for 128 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries and also catching six passes for 73 yards. Unfortunately, he got little support, as quarterback David Carr managed just five completions to wide receivers, for 61 yards.
One of the team's two first-round draft choices, Robinson had four tackles, two sacks, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. On a day when the Texans were intent on backing off in the secondary, and not allowing the Indianapolis wide receivers to run past them, his performance was notably aggressive.
To an extent, the Houston coverage scheme, which was mostly a Cover 2 shell look, with the safeties often playing in another area code, was effective, since it limited Peyton Manning to only a pair of touchdown passes. But when Manning needed to convert key third-down plays, he usually had time to throw, and typically found wide enough seams.
"What can you say?" said Carr, who completed 16-of-21 for 167 yards, with one scoring pass and one interception. "We did a lot of the things we wanted to do, even did some of them really well, and it still wasn't enough. They're a really good team and they showed that again today."
The Texans demonstrated again on Sunday that they are not yet ready to be competitive against the NFL's powerhouses, and showed that there are no guarantees that 2005 will be much different. That will have to change, given that the AFC South is rife with good, young teams, and that Indianapolis management is intent on keeping its potent offense together.
"We've got three games left to build on," Davis said. "It's time to step up and make some plays in those three games. (It's) time to quit beating ourselves and start taking it out on somebody else."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.