• Three games ago, sitting 5-3 for the first time in franchise history, the Houston Texans generated plenty of talk about being headed for the playoffs. Today, all they're headed for is last in the AFC South. (Check the standings. They're now tied with surging Tennessee for the bottom rung of the division.)
By now, everyone knows the story with these Texans. They have a fatal flaw. They can't finish. They start well, and have their big dreams, but they can't close out anyone or anything. It happened again for Houston on Sunday at home against the first-place and undefeated Colts. Up 17-0 in the first half of a game they had to win, the Texans tightened up and saw Indy reel off a 35-3 run en route to a 35-27 victory.
Three games in a row now, against the Colts in Indy in Week 9, and at home against Tennessee and Indy in Weeks 11-12, the Texans have teased but come up small against a division opponent in a big-game setting. Houston (1-4 in the AFC South) had a pair of fourth-quarter leads to protect in the games against Indianapolis, and it managed a fourth-quarter tie against the Titans. But they were losses all, taking the Texans from 5-3 to 5-6 and virtually out of playoff contention in a heartbeat.
You have to wonder what more Texans owner Bob McNair needs to see? Gary Kubiak's team can't finish, and because of it, he should be finished after this, his fourth season in Houston. Despite being a trendy pick to make the playoffs, the Texans will only wind up reinforcing the trend they've followed all eight years of their existence and miss the postseason. Houston is now a mind-boggling 1-15 against the Colts, who are still the class of its division.
McNair gave Dom Capers the boot as his head coach after four playoff-less seasons, and Kubiak now deserves the exact same treatment. Despite having some of the most gifted players in the league at several positions, the Texans lack heart, killer instinct and the know-how to win. If that's not a reflection on a head coach's leadership, what pray tell is?
As December dawns, the Texans are again toast. They should be in the market for a new face of the franchise in the coming weeks, and it's obvious they're in desperate need of a heart transplant, as well. Four years is an eminently fair shot in today's NFL. Kubiak got his chance to make the Texans a winner, and he failed. Better than most, he knows he and his football team have wound up on the wrong side of the bottom line.
• Call the Colts fortunate if you wish, but it's their refusal to panic, no matter how dire the situation, that has led to winning a league-record five consecutive games despite trailing in the fourth quarter. I'm not sure what it would take to really bury Indy these days, but you could tell being down 17 points in the second quarter at Houston wasn't going to fluster Peyton Manning and Co.
I honestly don't know which of Indy's latest feats is more impressive: The 20 consecutive regular-season wins, just one shy of New England's 2006-2008 league record, its NFL-record seventh straight year of at least 11 wins, or its 11-0 start under rookie head coach Jim Caldwell?
• This Vince Young career resurrection story has officially gone gonzo. The Titans are now 5-0 since Young took over for Kerry Collins, and on Sunday he led Tennessee on a game-winning, 18-play, 99-yard touchdown drive that started with 2:37 remaining and Arizona up 17-13.
Young converted three fourth downs and a third down on the Elway-esque drive, finishing it with a 10-yard, 4th-and-goal completion to rookie receiver Kenny Britt on the game's final play.
Young threw for 387 yards against the Cardinals, on 27 of 43 passing, with the one touchdown and no interceptions. Britt had a career-best game, with seven catches for 128 yards and his game-winning touchdown.
This is getting fun. Young is playing with supreme confidence, and the Titans are now remarkably a game under .500 after starting the season with six consecutive losses. Tennessee travels to 11-0 Indianapolis next week, but who's to say the Titans can't beat anybody at this point?
• Not a shabby game by Arizona quarterback Matt Leinart either, who was pressed into service when Kurt Warner awoke Sunday with a lingering concussion-related headache. Leinart finished 21 of 31 for 220 yards, without an interception or a touchdown. But he was overshadowed once again by his old rival from the 2006 national championship game, Vince Young. The ex-Longhorn got the best of the ex-Trojan once again.
• Two more interceptions for Chicago's Jay Cutler. Three more touchdowns (and 392 yards passing) for Minnesota's Brett Favre. Could this season have gone in more divergent directions for those two newly acquired NFC North quarterbacks?
Cutler now has 20 picks to go with his 16 touchdown passes, while Favre is up to 24 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Favre's in the running for Most Valuable Player; Cutler might win 'most disappointing' in a landslide.
• I wrote last week that Atlanta remained a dangerous, playoff-contending team even at 5-5, but it almost put the lie to that at home Sunday against the plucky, one-win Buccaneers. The Falcons survived 20-17 to get to 6-5 and keep their wild-card hopes on track, but the state of Matt Ryan's injured big toe might determine how far into December their playoff contention lasts.
Kudos to Falcons backup quarterback Chris Redman, whose 5-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White on 4th-and-goal with 26 seconds remaining saved the day and the season for Atlanta. All you want out of your No. 2 quarterback is for him to give you a chance to win without your starter on the field, and by that measure, Redman (243 yards, two TDs) got the job done.
• Who needs Cedric Benson in Cincinnati when the Bengals can generate 200-plus yards of rushing on the backs of Larry Johnson (107 yards on 22 carries) and Bernard Scott (87 yards on 18 attempts)? Someone do him a favor and explain the legend of Wally Pipp to Benson this week.
I'm not sure Cincinnati can go real far in the AFC playoffs (against the likes of prolific passing teams such as Indianapolis, New England and San Diego) with Carson Palmer throwing for just 110 yards, as he did Sunday in a 16-7 win over the Browns. But that power running game and the Bengals defense should serve Cincinnati very well as the weather turns nasty for the rest of the regular season.
• Raise your hand if you had the Bengals running the table in their AFC North games this season. If there's a more surprising development than that little 6-0 spurt, I don't have a clue what it would be.
• Tampa Bay, Washington and Seattle all entered Week 12 winless on the road, at a combined 0-14. Only the Seahawks wound up ending their away-game skid, winning 27-17 at St. Louis, but for the longest time on Sunday, it looked as if the Bucs and Redskins might join Seattle in the road-win column.
• I think it's fair to say our Week 12 Sunday lacked sizzle. Of the 12 games played today, none matched teams that both had winning records. The only games all weekend featuring two winners came Thursday night, when the struggling Broncos beat the slumping Giants, and, of course, Patriots-Saints is still to come.
• Four more interceptions for Jake Delhomme gives him 18 this season, to go with his eight touchdown passes. Carolina head coach John Fox is loyal to a fault, but it may end up costing him his job in Charlotte. The Panthers dropped to 4-7 with that 17-6 loss to the Jets at the Meadowlands, and the season has officially reached 'debacle' status in Carolina.
• Speaking of guys whose jobs might be in jeopardy, what's going on with Jason Elam in Atlanta? The Falcons kicker has now missed four field goals in the past five games, and his failed 43-yard attempt with the Falcons down by four points midway through the fourth quarter could have sealed Atlanta's fate against Tampa Bay.
• Bucs head coach Raheem Morris deserves some credit for Tampa Bay's improved defensive showing against Atlanta. But his questionable decision-making undid much of the good that apparently came from Morris taking over as the defensive play-caller for the demoted Jim Bates. The Bucs sacked Falcons quarterbacks six times on Sunday, and played with an aggressiveness that has been rare this season.
But Morris looked like a rookie head coach when he called for a fake punt that went awry, wasted a late timeout that gave Atlanta a breather near the goal line, and went for an ill-advised 51-yard field goal attempt that gave the Falcons great field position for their game-winning drive.
• Morris wasn't the only NFC head coach who had us scratching our heads. The Eagles' Andy Reid called for an onside kick to start the game, and it made no sense whatsoever when you realize that one of the few ways Washington could have won Sunday was to capitalize on getting a few short fields. Sure enough, the Redskins turned the David Akers' onside kick into a 19-yard touchdown drive.
Secondly, Reid inserted Michael Vick into the game with the Eagles down eight points and driving to the game-tying score with less than 11 minutes to go. It was the first time Philadelphia had any offensive rhythm in the entire second half, and Vick's quick incompletion on 1st-and-10 from the Redskins' 24 only served to give the Eagles an unnecessary hurdle to overcome.
• Got time for one more curious coaching call? The Dolphins had Ricky Williams throwing from the Wildcat formation on 1st-and-goal from the Bills' 3. It was Williams' first pass attempt since 2000, with the Saints, and predictably, it was intercepted in the end zone, by Buffalo linebacker Chris Draft.
As a Wildcat quarterback, Williams is no Ronnie Brown. As well as Williams has run the ball recently -- 115 yards against the Bills, his third consecutive 100-yard game -- having him throw the ball is getting too tricky for your own good.
• With five more games left in the regular season, there's no need to make a final call anytime soon, but Bills owner Ralph Wilson has to like what he has seen so far from interim head coach Perry Fewell. Buffalo lost narrowly at Jacksonville last week, and upset the visiting Dolphins 31-14 on Sunday. That's probably a death blow for Miami's wild-card playoff hopes, and that alone should give the division rival Bills some sense of satisfaction.
I know Terrell Owens must be in Ferrell's corner. T.O. had his second consecutive big game for Buffalo (five catches for 96 yards, including a 51-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown grab) in the post-Dick Jauron era.
If the Bills can't land one of the big-name coaching candidates they've pursued, they could do a lot worse than retain Fewell, who at least has his guys playing impressively early on in his seven-game audition.
• Even though that's how the game works, Kubiak doesn't deserve all the blame in Houston. When is someone going to convince me that Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has what it takes to win the big game? Schaub was red-hot in the first half against the Colts (14 of 17 for 152 yards), but he's turning into a latter-day Steve DeBerg: He's just good enough to get you beat.
• You can add another notch to Darrelle Revis's belt. The Jets' shutdown cornerback -- and we don't toss that label around lightly -- not only limited Carolina receiver Steve Smith to one catch for 5 yards, he picked off Delhomme twice, returning the first one 67 yards for a touchdown.
Why does anyone throw in Revis's direction these days?
• I don't quite get the intricacies of the Jets' new color-coded offensive system that is designed to help rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez better protect the football, but something worked against Carolina. Sanchez threw just one interception in completing 13 of 17 for 154 yards and no touchdowns. Given that he's been a turnover machine in recent weeks, that's progress.
• It's good to see the Browns offense is still the Browns offense (seven points, 169 total yards in the 16-7 loss at Cincinnati). Wonder if the folks in Cleveland question whether that 37-point game last week at Detroit ever really happened?