After having two months of hindsight, how does one answer the question of what happened to the Houston Texans? How could a team that started out 11-1 and seemed to have home field advantage locked up in the AFC playoffs run out of gas and finish third in the conference? The Texans were one of the favorites to play in the Super Bowl in 2012 yet went no further than they did in 2011.
In the NFL there are no excuses and no explanations. You either get it done or you don’t. However, if one were to find a reason for Houston coming up short it is that they did indeed run out of gas. The Texans’ season took a turn during a three game stretch in November when they had to play 14 quarters of football in less than three weeks. Two of the games were on the road. The last two went to overtime where the new regular season rules implemented in 2012 may have done Houston more harm than good.
The pivotal three-game stretch began on November 11 in a Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears. In a hard hitting affair, the Texans went into Chicago and defeated the Bears 13-6. The Sunday night game and travel left Houston with less time to recover for a Sunday afternoon matchup at home with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jacksonville came into the November 18 contest having won only one game. Instead of playing like a team whose season was done, the Jaguars outplayed the Texans for much of the game. Jacksonville led for most of the contest before Houston mounted a furious comeback and won in overtime. The Texans had played nine tough quarters of football, but the worst was yet to come.
Houston’s next game was a November 22, Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. With only three days to get ready it would have been very easy for the Texans to lose. Somehow they were able to defeat the Lions, but it took overtime for them to do it. Houston may have won the game, but it might have cost them the season. The Texans had played 10 quarters of football in five days and 14 in less than three weeks. Their bodies took a beating in which they never recovered.
When Houston returned to the field a week and a half later, they were able to defeat the Tennessee Titans by two touchdowns. Then the toll of November began to show as they were hammered by the New England Patriots the following week 42-14. The Texans lost three out of their last four regular season games. In the playoffs they looked lackluster in a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals and another loss to New England which ended their season.
What the Texans went through in November was akin to the barnstorming tours that hall of fame players like Red Grange and the Bears used to go on back in the 1920s. 14 quarters of football in 18 days will take its toll on any team.
The NFL is not a sympathetic league, but almost every team in the league would be hard pressed to survive a November like Houston’s and win a championship.