A couple years ago while getting ready to cover a high school football playoff game in the NRG Stadium press box, a colleague asked me an interesting question.
Pointing in the direction of the Houston Texans (back then) three AFC South championship banners, he pondered, “Do you think the New England Patriots hang division championship banners?”
The question really didn’t need an answer. The point made was that truly elite sports franchises need to aspire to more than regular season accolades.
Since that conversation, the Texans added a fourth division banner to the rafters, and on Sunday at NRG Stadium, they dominated a hapless Jacksonville Jaguars team, 20-3, to clinch the fifth AFC South championship in franchise history.
Earning a playoff home game should make fans happy, and the Texans’ 11-5 regular season record is their best under head coach Bill O’Brien. But, at the same time, fans have seen this tale before — four other times, to be exact. And each of these other times, the Texans had nothing to show for it besides another one of those divisional banners.
Sure, being a division champion should be celebrated, but in a little bit less prominent way than at NRG Stadium. To hang individual banners for each title where most teams hang Super Bowl and conference championship banners just shows that this franchise’s expectations are not as high as they should be.
For what it’s worth, this year’s team appears to want to raise the bar, walking the walk with a subdued demeanor and talking the talk after Sunday’s game.
“Today’s a big day, but, like I’ve said, we’ve got bigger goals,” Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said.
That’s good, because it would be unfortunate if a complacent mentality stymied this year’s team’s playoff efforts. For all their well-documented flaws, the 2018 Texans are actually built to be successful in the postseason, possessing a strong defense, a poised and capable quarterback, and an offense that can control the clock. And since starting the season 0-3, the Texans have posted an 11-2 record, so confidence should be high.
The Texans put all those traits on full display Sunday against Jacksonville. Sure, it was against the lowly Jags, but the defense held them to only two first downs through the first three quarters and 119 yards overall. Quarterback Deshaun Watson had no interceptions (his sixth straight game doing so), and the offense won the possession battle 35:07-24:53.
If the Texans stick to that winning formula with raised expectations, they might finally have something that will push those AFC South championship banners off to the side where they belong.