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By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) - The Houston Texans expected to advance farther than they did last season.
Instead, a late-season collapse cost them a bye week and home-field advantage, and they lost in the divisional round just as they did a year before. Now they're left to ponder another missed opportunity after a season that began with such high hopes ended with a 41-28 loss to the New England Patriots.
Coach Gary Kubiak still believes his team moved forward this season.
"Last year we were just excited to be in the playoffs ... and now we're really, really disappointed because we're not in the Super Bowl and we're not playing this week to get in the Super Bowl," Kubiak said. "That's a big compliment to everybody in this building and how hard they work ... we will always be that way now and we expect to be that way for a long time."
But not everyone is looking on the bright side of a season where Houston won a franchise-best 13 games. Star defensive end J.J. Watt, who developed into one of the top defenders in the league this season, summed up the year differently.
"I don't see it as a success," he said. "We don't have a trophy, so it's not a success. And in my mind in this league if you don't have a trophy then you're not a success. So we work hard this offseason, put every single thing we have into it, and we're going to come back next season with that trophy on our mind."
Watt's performance this season was one of the biggest reasons Houston won its second straight AFC South title. Watt led the NFL with a franchise-record 20 1/2 sacks in the regular season. He also had 107 tackles, including 39 for losses, 16 passes defended and forced four fumbles. He added another nine tackles, including 1 1/2 sacks and three tackles for losses with two passes defended in Houston's two postseason games.
"Of all my years in football, and I've been around a couple of MVPs, it's as good as a football season as I've ever seen," Kubiak said. "He's a second-year player is what's amazing about it. I think the sky's the limit for this guy."
As Watt grows into a more veteran role, Kubiak plans to lean on him as an example for other young players on the team.
"The thing I want him to do is raise this team's level of play and see us get past that step that we haven't gotten past in the last two years," Kubiak said. "I think he's committed to doing that. I think he's going to be a leader on this team for a long time."
Much of the criticism from fans and media following the loss has been directed at quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw an interception in the fourth quarter Sunday to end a drive that could have cut New England's lead to less than a touchdown. He also threw for 343 yards and two scores in the loss.
Schaub made the first two postseason starts of his career this season after missing last year's playoff run with a foot injury.
Kubiak believes putting all the blame for the loss on his quarterback is unfair, and said that a number of players, including Schaub, didn't make plays that could have changed the outcome. He has no plans to make any changes at the position in the future.
"I believe in Matt," Kubiak said. "He's the quarterback for our football team and I have no doubt about him. I feel very good about our quarterback. Our whole team has got to get better - and that includes coaching and playing - for us to make the next step and Matt's a part of the team."
Schaub led an offense that was seventh in the NFL with an average of 372.1 yards a game. He was helped by excellent seasons from running back Arian Foster and receiver Andre Johnson. Foster was second in the AFC with 1,424 yards rushing in the regular season and Johnson bounced back from his worst season to finish with a career-high 1,598 yards receiving, which led the AFC.
Kubiak was disappointed that those numbers didn't translate into more consistent offensive outings in the last part of the season.
"There's a lot of good things going on right there, but we want to be the best," he said. "And being the best meant that we could have been more consistent in the last month of the season and that could have been a difference for our team. That's the biggest thing right now for me is why weren't we more consistent in third down playing and those type of things late in the season like we were in the first three quarters of the season?"
NOTES: Rookie WR DeVier Posey injured his Achilles tendon in Sunday's game and will require surgery. Kubiak wasn't sure Monday how long he'll be out. "It's a big blow," Kubiak said of the injury. "You just feel bad for the kid because he had put himself in a situation to come back here next year and compete for a starting spot on this football team."
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