No kidding and no jokes – the Texans are in the NFL playoffs for the first time ever. The Texans’ inaugural game was on Sunday evening, September 8, 2002 against Dallas and we actually won that first game (even scored on our first drive). And now, our Texans play Saturday afternoon at 3:30 against Cincinnati– a team we have already played and beaten once this year (20-19).
So, how is it that we’ve finally made it to the playoffs for the first time? What are the keys and what was the tipping point for us? Here’s my take on why the Texans had a breakthrough year from, as my buddy Thom would say, the cheap seats.
- There’s No “I” In Team. Not a single Texans player made the NFL Associated Press All-Pro team and yet their accomplishments surpassed other teams with more position by position talent. Earlier this week, the New York Jets (arguably one of the most talented teams in the league), were bashed for being a group of self-absorbed players who cared little about the team. And so that very talented Jets team finished a mediocre 8-8 and will enjoy the playoffs from their comforts of their own homes.
- Wade Phillips has turned the defense into a game-changing force. Phillips implemented a 3-4 alignment, and the Texans defense began generating sacks and turnovers from the first game. Defensively, they’ve gone from nearly worst last year to nearly first this year, ranking second in the league in overall defense, giving up 285.7 YPG.
- Patience, But Not Indifference. Owner Bob McNair and Head Coach Gary Kubiak made wise, prudent changes along the way but not wholesale, reactionary changes that kept pushing them back to square one. They strengthened their strengths and compensated for their weaknesses patiently.
- Next Man Up. Who would have believed the Texans could have made it this far having lost for the season defensive star Mario Williams (who started in the last two Pro Bowls), quarterback Matt Schaub, and back-up quarterback Matt Leinart – not to mention losing all-everything receiver Andre Johnson for several weeks? But good teams are just that – good teams. The Indy Colts lost Peyton Manning this year and went 2-14 but the Texans have had different players step up and compensate for the losses of these marquee, spotlight players.
- Learning From Your Mistakes. The Texans’ leading rusher is Arian Foster who just happened to play his college ball for the Tennessee Vols – my favorite college team. Foster is a fantastic running back (he led the league in rushing last year and was an All-Pro) but he almost didn’t get the chance. He was a bust during his senior year in college and developed a bit of a “reputation” — consequently, he wasn’t even selected in the NFL draft. But now and here, he is a bona fide starter and star because he learned from his mistakes, adjusted and pressed on.
- Encouragement. Reliant Stadium is a fantastic atmosphere and the crowd is a real 12th man force.
And at the risk of sounding like I try to spiritualize everything (I don’t), there are some fundamental observations here applicable to any group – even churches.
- Attitude trumps talent every time when building a good team.
- Everybody has a role to play, including you, and your participation at some level is vital.
- Learn from the past & grow from the past without dwelling on it.
- Encouragement is something we all need and something we can all give.