Bill O'Brien on loss: I didn't do a good enough job

Bill O'Brien coached a Texans team that seemed destined for mediocrity after an 0-3 start all the way to the AFC South crown.

Houston's path met an all-too-familiar finish Saturday.

O'Brien's Texans fell to the upstart Indianapolis Colts 21-7 at NRG Stadium in the third meeting between the division rivals, and frankly, it wasn't even that close.

Marlon Mack's 24 carries for 148 yards and one touchdown led a Colts rushing attack that collectively hit 200 yards. Andrew Luck was even better, completing 19 of 32 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (off a batted ball).

From the opening possession, it was clear who was the better team in this matchup. Luck led a nine-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to start things off with balance and efficiency so impressive, it felt like an early punch that staggered Houston. The following hook -- another nine-play drive, this time for 75 yards -- put the Texans on the mat before the first bell.

"Give the Colts a lot of credit," O'Brien said afterward. "They came out better than we did. (Colts coach) Frank (Reich) did a good job and had his team ready to go and they converted some third downs and before you know it, we were down 14-0."

"We missed our first third down of the game and then they got the ball back, went up 14-0 and that just changes your whole offensive game plan. Now you're almost in somewhat of a two-minute mode at that point in time because you've got to play catch-up. Give the Colts credit. All the way around, they did a better job than we did today, obviously."

Houston found itself down 14-0 less than eight minutes into the game, which is plenty of time for a team to make a dent in a deficit. O'Brien's squad instead pressed, getting away from a run game that was often a foundation of the Texans' offense but was abandoned before it could settle.

That produced an interception on fourth down and eventually, O'Brien had to start taking significant risks, going for it on fourth down again before half.

"There were a couple times where we did punt just because of where it was on our end of the field but other than that, I didn't think we could punt," O'Brien said. "I felt like we had to go for it so that's the reason why we went for it."

A legitimate contender shouldn't feel pressed to go for it on fourth down when down two scores in the first half. And yet, that's where O'Brien found himself.

The Colts' offense slowed in the second half, but when Houston had the ball, more of the same followed. And again, the Texans are going home well short of their goal.

The last time this happened -- 2015, via a blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Houston -- the blame fell on the shoulders of the roster. O'Brien didn't have a legitimate quarterback to work with. The same was said after the Texans defeated a Connor Cook-led Raiders team and then fell to the Patriots on the road in the Divisional Round in 2016.

This time, though, the Texans have a quarterback: Deshaun Watson, who posted a line of 29-of-49 passing for 235 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and rushed eight times for 76 yards, all while being harassed frequently by Colts defenders. He mentioned after the game how the pressure affected him. It was a weakness that could be seen from a mile away, if one opened his/her eyes to look for it.

The question now shifts to what Houston will do to help Watson. The Texans made an in-season move to add Demaryius Thomas to a receiving corps that lacked an option opposite DeAndre Hopkins. That worked, until Thomas suffered an unfortunate injury that ended his season.

What's more important, though, to the longevity of Watson's and O'Brien's future with this franchise is who's protecting the quarterback. It was obvious for much of the season, so much that Watson developed a tendency to avoid non-existent pressure. It should be Houston's chief concern heading into another offseason that won't taste too good.

"I think that this organization has a very bright future," O'Brien said. "We have a great young quarterback. We've got a lot of really great guys in the locker room. I stood up there and said 'Look, I just didn't do a good enough job of getting you guys ready to play and it didn't change my feelings about this team.'"

Coaching improvements or not, personnel changes should be afoot -- or else more of the same (or worse) will follow.