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Texans exposed as a pretender vs. quality competition

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This edition of the Houston Texans was supposed to be different.

Three times in the past five years, the Texans have captured the AFC South crown only to prove they couldn't hang with the class of the conference in postseason action.

The first two weeks of the season suggested this year's team might rival the 2012 outfit as the best in an abbreviated franchise history. That squad took an AFC-best 11-1 record into New England in December of 2012 only to be dismantled to the tune of 42-14. A month later that same Houston team ultimately met its demise at the hands of the same loaded Patriots and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.

Entering Thursday night's 27-0 debacle versus the Pats, the Texans had reason to believe they could finally hang with an AFC perennial superpower reduced to its third-string rookie quarterback.

The defense featured a swarming front seven, a stingy cornerback trio and the league's best third-down rate. The offense was chock-full of playmakers after adding three-down tailback Lamar Miller and speedy rookie sensation Will Fuller to complement Pro Bowl wideout DeAndre Hopkins.

If there was a question still to be answered, it was whether $72 million quarterback Brock Osweiler would prove to be a franchise savior or the emperor with no clothes.

Osweiler was promptly undressed by Patriots coach Bill Belichick, coordinator Matt Patricia and a defense led by do-everything superstar linebacker Jamie Collins.

The newly minted quarterback didn't enter enemy territory until deep into the third quarter. Houston's 12 possessions resulted in six punts, three failures on fourth down, one Osweiler interception and two fumbled kickoff returns.

The Patriots rolled out a Cover-2 defense, erasing the deep ball and daring the Texans to run the ball and shorten Osweiler's throws. With a long delivery and a failure to process quickly in the pocket, Osweiler was an obvious liability against a stout defense and superior coaching.

Going back to his final start in 2015, Osweiler has tossed six interceptions in his last four games. His penchant for throwing passes up for grabs likely contributed to the coaching staff's decision to run the ball on third-and-long multiple times.

"Bottom line," Osweiler conceded, "I needed to play better tonight to allow our team an opportunity to win the ball game."

To be fair, though, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien and offensive coordinator George Godsey were severely out-coached by their mentor, paying dearly for a hyper-conservative game plan. The offensive line failed to open holes for Miller. Fuller continued his streak of one egregious drop per game. The special teams' miscues were momentum-shifting disasters. A defense that entered the game leading the league in sacks managed to get to greenhorn quarterback Jacoby Brissett just once. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt was rendered a non-factor -- as usual -- by Belichick and his staff.

"It was not a good night, starting with the coaching, playing," O'Brien acknowledged after the game. "Nothing was good. Will turn the page and regroup."

Belichick is now 7-1 in eight career opportunities to teach the Texans that the AFC South is the NFL's version of the minor leagues.

If Houston is going to make a run in the postseason, it's on O'Brien to fix the error-prone special teams, minimize Osweiler's weaknesses and find a way to unleash his bevy of defensive playmakers against quality competition.

"It's the third game of the year," O'Brien said in summary, "so look, you guys have a job to do and I have a job to do. My job is to (make) this team better ... my job is to go back to work tommorrow as soon as we get off the plane, figure out what we did wrong and get it better. And that's what we're trying to do."

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