Texans draw out tease to final weekend

Kubiak is one win away from his first playoff berth as a head coach … perhaps

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It's that bittersweet time of year again at 32 Questions Headquarters – or, as the beautiful people call it, 32QHQ.

Beginning Jan. 5, we'll restrict our top-to-bottom trip around the NFL to the postseason participants and, sadly, bid a sentimental farewell to 20 of our favorite franchises until next season.

There is, however, a silver lining: Depending upon what happens Sunday, there's a decent chance I won't have to hazard any more ill-fated guesses about where the Texans reside in the league's pecking order.

The Texans are the NFL's ultimate tease, a team capable of putting together brilliant stretches of football, which are inevitably followed by maddening bursts of incompetence.

Before this season – and not for the first time – I thought the Texans were good enough to qualify for the playoffs, something they have yet to do in their eight-year history.

When Houston lost three of its first five games, I figured I'd been duped again. After the Texans rallied to win three in a row, including an impressive 28-17 road victory over the Bengals, then lost a close battle on the road to the undefeated Colts, my optimism returned.

As the Indy defeat degenerated into a four-game losing streak that dropped the Texans to 5-7, I pretty much wanted to disown them. And last Sunday, when Houston jumped all over Miami and won its third straight game to keep its postseason dream alive, I was right back on the bandwagon.

In fairness, I wasn't the only person caught off guard by the way the Texans (8-7) turned it up on Sunday. The Dolphins (7-8), who fell behind 27-0 in the first half of a game they desperately needed to win, appeared pretty damned shell-shocked, too.

"I think we surprised them," Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson(notes) said. "We knew coming into this game it was life or death. If we didn't win, it would be over for us. And we played like it from the start."

The real question is, why did Robinson and his teammates wait until they were on the brink of mathematical elimination before mounting their charge? It's not an unfamiliar pattern, either: Last year the Texans started 0-4 and 3-7 before rallying to finish 8-8, which was enough to quiet talk about coach Gary Kubiak's job security.

After Sunday's triumph, Texans sources believe Kubiak (30-33 over four seasons) has likely saved his job again, rumors about the impending arrival of Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan notwithstanding. Of course, Kubiak's return would be a slam dunk if the Texans can defeat the AFC East champion Patriots on Sunday and get the help they need to qualify for a wild-card berth.

If the Texans win, they'll need some help from the Jets, Broncos or Ravens, at least two of whom would have to lose on Sunday for Houston to sneak into the playoffs.

Amid so much uncertainty, the Texans are wisely focusing their energies on the one thing they can control – trying to clinch the first winning season in franchise history.

"Our attitude is just to come out and play more sound," middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans(notes) said Sunday. "We feel like we let a lot of games out of our hands that we should have had. If we can avoid mistakes, we can win games like that."

Echoed Robinson: "Most of the games we lost this season were due to self-inflicted wounds. As long as we can avoid doing that, we'll keep the faith. It's possible that things could work out in our favor, so we're just going to keep playing hard and see what happens."

In the meantime, I have the Texans right where they belong in our final list of queries featuring all 32 teams: In the middle.

1. Indianapolis Colts: Does Bill Polian have the thinnest skin in America, or is he resting up for the playoffs, too?

2. San Diego Chargers: Even though Shawne Merriman(notes) has been a virtual nonentity this season, have you noticed how much better Shaun Phillips(notes) is when his bookend pass rusher is in the lineup?

3. New Orleans Saints: If the Saints don't win the Super Bowl, will Tom Benson figure it out by Mardi Gras?

4. Philadelphia Eagles: When Donovan McNabb(notes) busted that 27-yard run on third-and-25 late in Sunday's victory over the Broncos, was J. Whyatt Mondesire suitably satisfied?

5. Arizona Cardinals: After punter Ben Graham(notes) forced Rams returner Danny Amendola to fumble Sunday, did he receive a celebratory phone call and hearty cheer from former Chargers punter Darren Bennett?

6. Cincinnati Bengals: In the wake of coach Marvin Lewis' decree against premature celebrations, should this be the Bengals' new theme song?

7. Dallas Cowboys: Is Wade Phillips' defensive coordinator saving his job – and how wild is it that they are, in fact, the same person?

8. Minnesota Vikings: Are the wheels coming off – or was Brett Favre's(notes) brilliant comeback in Monday night's overtime defeat to the Bears enough to shock the Vikes' offense back into formidable form?

9. New England Patriots: Now that Randy Moss(notes) has admitted he sucked against the Panthers, can Merril Hoge and his minions please stop pretending how awesome the wideout was?

10. Green Bay Packers: By knocking down passes with impressive regularity, has defensive end Johnny Jolly(notes) successfully deflected the criticism he was getting in early November?

11. Denver Broncos: If I'd predicted before Sunday's game that a Broncos receiver would be ejected for making contact with an official, how many of you would have guessed the culprit wouldn't be Brandon Marshall(notes)?

12. Baltimore Ravens: Yo, Troy Smith(notes) – is there any way you could have waited to make your urgent trade request until, you know, the Ravens had finished playing the game that will decide their postseason fate?

13. Atlanta Falcons: How cool (and fitting) was it to see The Beerman boot?

14. Pittsburgh Steelers: If the defending champs sneak into the postseason, will Derrick Mason get a playoff share (and will the Ravens wideout be able to hold onto that)?

15. New York Jets: Will Marvin Lewis join Jim Caldwell in playing Santa Claus to Rex Ryan's wide-eyed kid?

16. Houston Texans: If Brian Cushing(notes) is honored as the NFL's defensive rookie of the year, will last Sunday's gritty effort be a big reason?

17. Miami Dolphins: Based on Jason Taylor's(notes) grisly assessment of the Dolphins' mindset against the Texans, shouldn't he and his teammates have showered at halftime?

18. Carolina Panthers: Has Bill Cowher already told Jerry Richardson "no," or is the owner laying low in anticipation of a lockout?

19. Tennessee Titans: Can Chris Johnson get the 234 rushing yards he needs to break Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season record against the Seahawks – and is there any doubt coach Jeff Fisher will give him every opportunity to do so?

20. New York Giants: Besides being wildly entertaining to young audiences, what do Tom Coughlin and Pee-wee Herman have in common?

21. San Francisco 49ers: Would it kill Mike Singletary to let Isaac Bruce(notes), one of the best receivers of his era, play in what could be the final game of his career in front of the fans who adore him most?

22. Chicago Bears: When Jay Cutler(notes) plays like he did Monday night, is there any question as to why this franchise gave up so much to get him?

23. Jacksonville Jaguars: Who treats Tom Brady(notes) more tenderly: his mother, his wife or Jack Del Rio's defense?

24. Cleveland Browns: After being doused with Gatorade by his players following Sunday's victory over his former team, did defensive coordinator Rob Ryan look something like this upon entering the locker room?

25. Oakland Raiders: Who's more persecuted: zebras by poachers and lions, or the Raiders by zebras?

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: How spooky was it that Michael Spurlock, one of Jim Haslett's former Florida Tuskers, helped doom the Saints on Sunday?

27. Buffalo Bills: Is it fair to say that Terrell Owens(notes) puts the man in manicure – and is there any danger Ralph Wilson will mistake his well-groomed wideout for Bud Adams?

28. Washington Redskins: Isn't it tragic the way that poor Albert Haynesworth(notes) got duped into signing with the 'Skins – and how can the franchise possibly make it up to him?

29. Kansas City Chiefs: Will Mike Vrabel(notes) get his revenge on Josh McDaniels on Sunday or, counterintuitive as it may seem, will he go all Artie Fufkin?

30. Seattle Seahawks: Could Sunday be Matt Hasselbeck's(notes) last game as the Seahawks' starting quarterback – or was last Sunday just a debacle at Lambeau?

31. Detroit Lions: Yo, Mr. Grinch, what do you mean the Lions can't blame Matt Millen for their continued misery?

32. St. Louis Rams: Using the logic employed by Keith Null(notes), can we surmise that the Rams' next franchise quarterback might be found somewhere in this video?