Prior to the start of the season, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson were among several players who declared that the Houston Texans 2012 season would be ‘Super Bowl or Bust’. The team had lofty expectations coming off of a 2011 season where they went 10-6, won the AFC South title and made the playoffs for the first time, and won a playoff game in their first ever foray into the post-season. Expectations were that the Texans ten year anniversary season would be the franchise’s best ever and end in New Orleans with a trip to the Super Bowl.
One out of two isn’t bad right? The Texans 2012 season was indeed the best ever for the franchise. They finished 12-4, which I predicted, while setting a franchise record for wins and tying the 1993 Houston Oilers for the best ever record by a Houston NFL team. That resulted in a second consecutive division title and wild-card playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. However, a late season swoon culminated in the Texans season ending two games short of the big game for the second consecutive year. Houston again saw their Super Bowl dreams dashed on the road in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, this time falling to the New England Patriots 41-28.
It was a disappointing end to a season that began with so much promise. However, despite the pre-season proclamation of Johnson and Schaub, the 2012 season was not a bust, despite ending up short of their preferred final destination of New Orleans. The Texans showed that they are a team to be reckoned with, and should be a contender for the next several years. They have built a solid nucleus of talent, as evidenced by their conference high eight Pro-Bowl selections. Houston just needs to improve one more notch in order to take the next step and advance to the AFC Championship Game and beyond.
Although they failed to accomplish their Super Bowl aspirations this season, 2012 was a year of firsts for the Texans. It will go down as the best season in franchise history, but if things continue to trend upward, it will not hold that distinction for long. The Texans will head into the 2013 season with the same lofty championship expectations, and rightfully so. This team is on the cusp, and next season the Super Bowl will again be a realistic aspiration to shoot for. Here is a look back at the good and bad of the Houston Texans 2012 season.
Best Win: Week 7 vs Baltimore Ravens – The Texans and Ravens entered week 7 with identical 5-1 records and were playing for the top spot in the AFC. Facing the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoffs, Houston had never beaten Baltimore. Did that ever change on this day, as the Texans dominated the Ravens from the jump. They routed Baltimore 43-13, which gave them the top spot in the conference that they held all of the way to the season’s final week. It was the Texans most complete team performance of the season, and set the franchise mark for points scored in a game. They went into the bye week at 6-1, and carried the momentum from this game into the season’s second half.
Worst Loss: Week 16 vs Minnesota Vikings – While many will point to the week 14, 42-14 loss in their first trip to New England, the week 16 game vs the Vikings is the one the Texans should kick themselves over when they look back on the season. Needing only one win to lock up the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, Houston laid an absolute dud in front of the home fans. Despite having it all in front of them and plenty at stake, the Texans looked uninspired and lethargic from the start. The result was a Viking team playing for their playoff lives shutting down the Texans 23-6. Houston failed to score a touchdown for only the second time in the Gary Kubiak era. Although they lost the season finale in Indianapolis the following week, this is the game that ultimately cost the Texans home-field and their best chance at a Super Bowl run.
Best Individual Offensive Single Game Performance: Tie, Schaub and Johnson, Week 11 vs Jacksonville Jaguars – The Texans found themselves in an unexpected offensive shootout with the division rival Jaguars at Reliant Stadium. Trailing 34-20 in the fourth quarter, Houston was in need of a comeback in order to avoid an embarrassing loss to the one win Jags. Schaub and Johnson led the Texans comeback with career best and record setting performances. Schaub broke his own franchise record marks, passing for 527 yards and 5 touchdowns, including the game winner to Johnson in overtime as the Texans won 43-37 in thrilling fashion. Schaub’s 527 passing yards were second most in league history. Johnson finished with 14 catches for a franchise record 273 yards, ninth most in league history. The performances helped catapult Schaub to the week 11 AFC Offensive Player of the Week and Johnson to the November AFC Offensive Player of the Month.
Best Individual Defensive Single Game Performance: J.J. Watt, Week 15 vs Indianapolis Colts – In the game where Houston clinched its second consecutive AFC South title, Watt was a one man wrecking crew against Indianapolis. He recorded 10 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 4 QB hits, 3 sacks and a forced fumble at the goal line that changed the tide of the game in the Texans 29-17 victory. Watt was absolutely unstoppable, and the performance catapulted him to being named the December AFC Defensive Player of the Month. The Colts offense had no answers and were helpless to block Watt all game. A 3-4 defensive end single handedly controlling a game is unheard of, but Watt did just that against Indy.
Offensive MVP: Johnson – Many people felt that Johnson was on the decline following an injury plagued 2011 season where he missed nine games and finished with career lows of 33 receptions, 492 yards, and 2 touchdowns. In 2012, Johnson showed that he was still one of the top receivers in the NFL. Fully healthy, he finished with 112 receptions for a career high 1,598 yards and 4 touchdowns. Johnson joined Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only players to record three 100 reception, 1,500 yard seasons in their career.
Defensive MVP: Watt – The likely Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL led the league with 20.5 sacks. He also had 16 passes defensed, breaking Reggie White’s record for most combined sacks and passes defensed in a season. Watt was a dominating force from week 1 through week 17. He had the highest percentage of snaps disrupted in the league. That stat include sacks, deflections, QB hurries and tackles for a loss or no gain. Despite constant double and triple teams, Watt was a fixture in the opponents backfield all season long. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that he is only 23 and just finished his second season.
Special Teams MVP: Bryan Braman – The outside linebacker was once again a demon on special teams for the Texans. Braman blocked 2 punts in 2012, both for touchdowns, including one that he scooped up and returned for a score in the division clincher vs Indianapolis. He led Houston in special teams tackles for the second consecutive season, and was the bright spot on a unit that overall wasn’t good this season.
Most Improved Player: Kareem Jackson – Jackson made tremendous strides in his third season, finally resembling the first round pick that Houston selected him with in 2010. He led the team with 4 interceptions, and also tied Watt with 16 passes defensed. Always a strong tackler and physical corner, Jackson improved in coverage technique and recognition this season. His ability to play the deep ball was his weakness, and he made strides in turning his head and playing the football. Jackson became a dependable member of the secondary, and if he continues to improve gives the Texans a one-two cornerback punch with Johnathan Joseph that should be solid for the next several seasons.