Texans will be back stronger in 2012

Posted Jan. 16, 2012 @ 3:52 p.m.
Posted By Arthur Arkush

The fact that the Texans had the ball in Baltimore territory with a shot at a game-tying touchdown in the final minute of Sunday's 20-13 divisional-playoff loss to the Ravens despite losing the turnover battle 4-0 tells you everything you need to know about the 2011 Texans.

They simply had no quit in them — and could give a you-know-what about conventional wisdom.

How many times this season could the Texans have folded? Their best defensive player went down for the season in Week Five. They were without their All-Pro wide receiver for two-thirds of the season. They were down to a third-string, rookie fifth-rounder under center for heaven's sake.

Of course, as resilient and tough as this Texans bunch was — and no matter how well they played "D" and ran the ball — it was always going to come down to rookie QB T.J. Yates. And while Yates took the Texans further than anyone thought he could, his three interceptions — including two in the fourth quarter and one in the final two minutes — were simply too much adversity to overcome, even for these Texans.

Yates tested future Hall of Famer Ed Reed one too many times and it cost Houston a possible trip to the AFC championship game.

That is why this loss undoubtedly will sting for a while. The Texans were the better football team on Sunday and those are the hardest losses to forget. But once the pain begins to lessen, head coach Gary Kubiak and his troops should be incredibly proud of their groundbreaking and successful 2011 campaign.

The PFW Spin

Perhaps more important for the Texans than the 11 wins and first-ever AFC South title and playoff victory is the groundwork they laid for future success. The Texans erased the perception they couldn't stand toe-to-toe with the heavyweights. Seldom this season did an opponent beat up the Texans; instead it was Houston that consistently wore down the opposition until it had had too much.

The best part for Texans fans? This team is only going to get better.

Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Weekly Writers of America Assistant Coach of the Year Wade Phillips, the Texans' defensive coordinator and best offseason acquisition, isn't going anywhere.

Neither is Arian Foster, whose rights the Texans control for at least two more years if they can't come to terms on a contract extension this offseason. Foster has proven that he belongs in the conversation with the best backs in football. He gets our vote as most complete. (And don't forget — which might be easy to do since he didn't touch the football on Sunday — Houston also has Ben Tate in its dynamic backfield. The Texans will make a push to re-sign underrated C Chris Myers and bring ball all five starters on arguably the best offensive line in football.

Can they find a way to bring back OLB Mario Williams, who notched sacks in his first five games — despite learning a new position — before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury? The "D," thanks in large part to Connor Barwin and rookie Brooks Reed, didn't skip a beat without Williams, but his return would only make Houston's pass rush that much more relentless. With or without Williams, Houston's "D" will be locked and loaded. Rookie DE J.J. Watt, ILB Brian Cushing and CB Johnathan Joseph make for one heck of a nucleus that will be intact for the next few seasons.

GM Rick Smith, who deserves a ton of credit for the Texans' success this season, Kubiak and Phillips proved they could push the right buttons in the draft and free agency. If it wasn't for Jim Harbaugh, Kubiak might have joined Phillips in earning coaching honors for the tremendous job he did under great adversity.

Although the Texans are deep and talented, don't be surprised when they try and add another shutdown corner to pair with Joseph and a complementary wideout to Andre Johnson. (While Yates will take the brunt of the criticism for Sunday's loss — and deservedly so — he often forced the ball into a double-covered Johnson because Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones, who deserves as much blame as Yates for his boneheaded muffed punt in the shadow of his own goal line early in the first quarter, gave him no help.)

Yates took the Texans as far as he could this season. And for as much moxie as he showed, the biggest returning piece of the equation, of course, is Matt Schaub. There are some who doubt Schaub's ability to be a franchise QB — maybe even a few inside the Texans' building — but it is hard to imagine Houston isn't beginning preparations for New England Monday if he was on the field in Baltimore.

After all, it's his team and these Texans should be primed and ready to make a run for the Super Bowl with their leader back manning the controls in 2012.