Management failed to provide Matt Schaub with a consistent and dynamic talent at wide receiver to play opposite 31-year-old and oft-injured Andre Johnson, despite gaining the services of stud running back Arian Foster without having to sacrifice a draft pick.
Johnson played 16 games in 2012 for the first time since 2009, totaling a career-high 1,598 yards and four touchdowns on 112 receptions. His receiving yards more than tripled that of the second Texans wideout in that department: Kevin Walter accumulated 518 yards and two touchdowns on 41 catches.
He played 16 games as well.
Houston knew what sort of weapons it had and—more importantly—how they match up with the Patriots defense. The divisional round matchup between Houston and New England was the second time that the two teams faced off since the 2012 regular season began. In the first matchup, New England throttled the Texans, 42-14.
Instead of a rematch being any more interesting, Houston disappointed by losing in a similar fashion in the same venue, 41-28. It scored more than half of its points in the final 11:35—after the Patriots had jumped to a 38-13 lead—rendering its final two touchdowns inconsequential to the outcome of the game.
The assigned blame in this case can’t stop with decision-makers who don’t actually lace up cleats and try to hit people or avoid getting hit: There were flaws in execution by Texans players, too. A dropped pass by James Casey on second down and a gross overthrow by Matt Schaub on third down inside New England’s 10-yard line kept Houston from scoring a touchdown on its opening drive.
That was a big drop by Casey. Then a miss by Schaub. They can't waste those opportunities.— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) January 13, 2013
That drive was set up beautifully by a 94-yard kickoff return by Danieal Manning, but the ensuing field goal was a momentum-killer for Houston which may have set the tone for the rest of the game. You can’t afford those against the offensive juggernaut that is the Patriots.
Great KO return but Texans need TDs not FGs— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) January 13, 2013
If the Texans scored that early touchdown, the complexion of the game would have been different. Instead, New England responded with a TD of its own 12.5 minutes later and reeled off 17 unanswered points. It never looked back as Houston commenced the arduous process of attempting to keep up in Foxborough.
That’s quite difficult to do with only one viable threat on the outside. Playing from behind forced the Texans to play outside of their preferred offensive game plan—which is to run the football—and put them at the mercy of Tom Brady and the high-powered Pats defensively. In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with the way the Texans are built.
But the AFC is not a vacuum; it’s a conference that was won by the Patriots in 2011. Since no one has since effectively shut down New England’s offense, the first step toward winning the AFC is to build a unit that can similarly light up a scoreboard unless living in the Patriots backfield is a defensive possibility.
Houston didn’t have the personnel to do either—and it couldn’t get out in front of the avalanche.