Something unexpected happened in the Texans' 20-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens Sunday. Not in the game, mind you, since that went down pretty much how I thought it might. Houston was in it, had a chance to win after a huge game by Arian Foster and a dominant defensive effort.
No, the unexpected thing was how disappointed I was that they lost. I went in expecting them to lose and came out the other side mad that they wouldn't be playing in New England next weekend. Never dreamed that might happen before the season and it was a good feeling, despite the pain at the loss.
Lots of people have already expressed how grateful they've been for this season, so I thought I'd go a different way. Instead of recapping what I liked and didn't like about this game, let's talk about what I was grateful for this season:
Wade Phillips: Dude is just a beast. I still can't get over the fact he was on the sidelines against the Ravens, not a month after having his gallbladder and a very significant tumor removed from his abdomen. Not to mention what he did with a Texans' defense that didn't have the benefit of an offseason to develop, switched schemes and added different starters all over the field. The fact that he's staying around makes it even better.
Mostly, I'm grateful for seeing proof about how much good coaching can affect a team. Good players can still make a coach look like a genius, but what Phillips did was put good players in position to be great. That was nice to see.
Arian Foster: Despite the fumbles and hint of an attitude, Foster is the best back I've seen in Houston. Period. I'm not old enough to remember Earl Campbell, but Foster easily trumps everyone in Texans history. His combination of speed and power, plus his field vision and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield make him very, very dangerous. When he was on, it was a treat watching him run.
Connor Barwin: He's kinda crazy. He had that weird shotgun sack dance, but Barwin was the most consistent pass rusher maybe in team history this season. The Texans rushed the passer in a number of ways, but it all starts with Barwin. Though they lost Mario Williams, his replacement Brooks Reed did pretty well. I'm not sure the Texans would have been able to overcome a loss of Barwin.
J.J. Watt: My favorite rookie since...well, maybe Cushing? It's easy to like guys with big motors, from his tackles 15 yards downfield or his relentless sacks in the pocket. His INT return against Cincinnati may be his defining moment of the season, but he was so much more in many games. The other impressive thing about Watt is he never really hit a rookie wall, playing better in the second half of the season than he did early on. That's a pretty good mark of a rare and special player, even if he doesn't play a flashy position in this defense.
Johnathan Joseph: Not since the days of Aaron Glenn has a cornerback gotten so much respect in Houston. Dunta Robinson was even targeted and challenged more than Joseph was this season. The fact he stayed healthy for the entire season was also a very pleasant surprise and worth the contract he was given.
Gary Kubiak: Just a fine effort from a coach who could have been fired. He's a great offensive mind and had the Houston passing and rushing attacks clicking as well as anyone before Schaub went down with that foot injury. He held the team together after that. If you liked what T.J. Yates did in his limited time, thank Kubes. He was a big part of Yates' development late in the year.
T.J. Yates: Give credit where credit is due. The rookie got played by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis Sunday, locked onto receivers and didn't really go through his progressions all that well. Plus, he wasn't all that accurate on his deep ball, when he bothered to throw it. But, the man stepped in and won a playoff game. He made plays when he needed to in a very tough situation.
Brian Cushing: Was there a better symbol for this defensive renaissance than Cushing's Eternally Bloody Nose? I think not.