This was supposed to be the year. The Houston Texans were going to win the AFC South for a third straight year, only this year, the ride wasn't going to end until the Super Bowl.
Oh, the ride's over alright. In fact, it came off the rails in Week 3. The Texans, after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night for the second time in three weeks, have now dropped 11 games in a row.
Head coach Gary Kubiak is in charge of keeping the train on the tracks. It certainly isn't all his fault that Houston's playoff dreams have been derailed, but enough of the blame is his that one thing has become clear.
We've reached the point of no return with Kubiak's coaching tenure in Houston.
This isn't an easy article to write. It seems unfair, almost cruel, to be stating that a man who not two months ago collapsed on the sidelines at a game should be fired.
After all, it's not Kubiak's fault Matt Schaub decided it was more fun to throw touchdown passes to players on the other team. He can't be blamed for the injuries that have knocked prominent players like Arian Foster and Brian Cushing out for the year.
That's true. It's also true that Kubiak has lost the team.
Should Gary Kubiak be back to coach the Houston Texans in 2014?
At no point during this long losing streak has it looked or felt like the Texans were rallying as a team, either around each other or their coach. Instead, the team has lost in every way imaginable. Big leads have been squandered at home. Turnovers. Poor decisions, by players and staff alike.
While some teams thrive when faced with adversity, the Texans have withered in spectacular fashion.
The heat had been steadily growing around Kubiak in the weeks leading up to his health scare, but that talk was quickly (and rightly) quelled as he recuperated. But now, with Kubiak back on the sideline and the Texans holders of the NFL's worst record in a season entered with Super Bowl expectations, that talk is sure to quickly regain strength.
The critics have valid points.
For starters, Kubiak has taken a mess at quarterback for the Texans and made it worse.
When Kubiak named Case Keenum the starter back in Week 7, no one really questioned the move. The Texans were floundering, Schaub was cranking out pick-sixes like Hershey's cranks out Kisses, and the thought was the team needed a change.
Keenum had his moments early, but lo and behold, the second-year pro has also had his struggles much to Kubiak's chagrin, because that never happens to young quarterbacks.
In two of the last three games (both against Jacksonville), Kubiak has lifted Keenum for Schaub. We have, in the last three weeks, seen a carousel of Keenum-Schaub-Keenum-Keenum-Schaub.
Schaub got the Texans close in the second half Thursday night, and Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle reports Kubiak said after the game that he's considering starting the veteran the rest of the year (unless he changes his mind again).
Kubiak said #Texans will consider starting Matt Schaub remainder of season. "Unbelievable pro."— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) December 6, 2013
Of course, Schaub also threw the game-sealing interception against Jacksonville, but other than that, everything was great.
The point is, Kubiak has, for whatever reason, become ridiculously twitchy with his quarterbacks. The Texans know what they have in Schaub, and Kubiak apparently doesn't think Keenum can work through his struggles.
With the team now in the lead for Teddy Bridgewater, an important question needs to be asked.
Do the Texans really want Gary Kubiak (aka "Captain QuickHook") developing the Louisville quarterback?
The real kicker, though, is the way the Texans lost to Jacksonville.
Four days after playing the New England Patriots tough before losing by a field goal, the Houston defense looked bored on the opening drive of the game, allowing the Jaguars to drive 80 yards for a 7-0 lead.
It was the first time this season the Jaguars had a scoring drive more than five minutes long.
The Texans committed a staggering 14 penalties for 177 yards. Time and time again, those penalties either extended Jacksonville drives or ended Houston ones.
The Texans looked very much the part of a team mailing it in, and the lack of focus the team showed is indicative of poor preparation.
They're a poorly prepared team, mind you, that has lost 11 games in a row headed into a division game against a team they just played two weeks ago.
How does that happen in the NFL?
Even Kubiak admits blame for the sloppy play falls on his shoulders:
Kubiak said penalties, lack of discipline are on him and he accepts blame. #Texans— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) December 6, 2013
When a head coach in the midst of an 11-game losing streak is making comments like that, it's time for a change.
And there's going to be a lot of that in the coming months in Houston.