Today, we say goodbye to the Houston Texans, a team that ended up leaving the playoffs with a "we were just happy to be here" vibe, when, just weeks before, they had a "We're going to the playoffs, and we won't be just happy to be there" vibe.
I don't mean to belittle what the Texans did in the playoffs, but come on: T.J. Yates. I don't think anyone looks at T.J. Yates and thinks, "Why yes, a Lombardi trophy belongs in this man's hands." Not at the moment, anyway.
Abbreviated playoff run or not, it was a wholly gratifying season for the Texans. They made their first franchise playoff appearance and won their first division title, in a somewhat dominating fashion. It ended up as just a one-game margin, but that's a little deceiving, since the Texans ended on a three-game losing streak and the Titans won their last two.
The biggest difference between this year's Texans and all other playoff-averse versions of the Texans? This man.
Wade Phillips stepped in as defensive coordinator, and with a couple of quality free-agent acquisitions turned the Texans into a defensive monster. In 2010, the Texans ranked 30th in the league in yards allowed per game. Wade's 2011 version ranked second, behind only the Steelers. They shaved almost 100 yards off of their yards allowed per game average.
The biggest concern for the Texans in the offseason is that Wade wants a head-coaching job now, and I don't blame him ‒ people have been hired based on lesser accomplishments. It doesn't look like he's going to get one, but if they have to, the Texans should give him head-coaching money to stay as DC. It's a perfect fit for Wade and for the Texans.
The other big story for the 2011 Texans was injuries ‒ Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson being the most notable. Johnson, one of the game's elite receivers, played in only seven regular-season games for the Texans. Schaub was done for the season after a mid-November injury against the Buccaneers.
If both of those guys stayed healthy, the Texans would've had every reason to believe they were as good as anyone in the AFC. Schaub was playing with a quarterback rating of 96.8 before going down. That was still good for sixth-best in the NFL, better than three of the four quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs.
Running back Arian Foster had a magnificent year, too, and the Texans are going to have to make a decision on him. He'll be a restricted free agent. He proved to be one of the game's most dangerous backs, but 2011 was also a pretty good year for proving that it's a bad idea to give franchise money to running backs. It'll be a very tough call.
Mario Williams is the other big free agent. He'll be unrestricted. I don't expect that there's any way the Texans will let him walk.
The sky will be the limit for next season's edition of the Texans. I suspect that you'll see them as the AFC's Super Bowl representative in quite a few preseason prognostications. There's no reason why they shouldn't be.