ARLINGTON — Arian Foster looks as down as he's been since that playoff loss in Baltimore years ago. "My fault," Foster says over and over again in the visitors locker room.
Foster is talking about the third-and-two play that kills the Houston Texans' first — and only — offensive chance in an improbable overtime. The running back split wide as a receiver on the ill-fated, creative play and insists he should have done a better job of getting open.
Foster wants to take the whole enormity of this 20-17 overtime heartbreaker loss to the Dallas Cowboys and make it his burden. Near mind that Foster almost steals the Texans a win with his cutting brilliance. Never mind that he out plays the leading rusher in the NFL, flavor of the moment DeMarco Murray.
Leaders take responsibility. And if you don't think Arian Foster is one of the clear re-energized leaders of these Bill O'Brien Texans, you just haven't been paying attention.
O'Brien himself looks more pissed than Foster. His postgame press conference is short on answers and high on annoyance.
If Dallas officials covered Ebola as well as Joseph covers Bryant, there wouldn't be a health crisis in the city.
"The loss," O'Brien barks at one point when someone asks a near esoteric question requesting that he detail exactly what is the single most bothersome thing about the afternoon. "The loss bothers me the most."
It's not Bill Belichick's "We're onto Cincinnati" diatribe, but it's not completely removed from that family either.
Meanwhile, Tony Romo and the Cowboys sound near giddy about having survived the underdog Texans in what's still technically a Dallas home game (no matter what Romo thinks). It's pathetic really. The Cowboys almost blow the game by completely botching a late run-out-the-clock attempt to the point where it makes Walmart's late night cashier staffing system look well run by comparison. They need a Dez Byrant overtime miracle, a pinkie toe tackle of Arian Foster and a blue moon J.J. Watt sack miss to eek out a win over their rebuilding in-state rivals.
And they couldn't seem prouder of themselves.
On the other hand, the Texans somehow almost steal a game they have no real business being in, score 10 points in the last 2:27 of regulation to force overtime and couldn't be more enraged.
"It hurts a lot," left tackle Duane Brown says. "Just knowing on offense, the number of chances we had to make plays in the first half . . . "
Foster is more succinct. "It sucks," he says.
Five games into O'Brien and Crennel partnership and this Houston team already has an identity.
In truth, Texans fans should be enormously encouraged by this game. The Cowboys roll into the Jerry World showdown, averaging nearly 30 points per game, having absolutely destroyed Rob Ryan's Saints defense the Sunday before. And they struggle for everything they get against the Texans.
Five games into the Bill O'Brien and Romeo Crennel partnership and this Houston team already has an identity. No one relishes playing against this bruising defense.
"That was an outstanding defensive unit that we went against today," Romo says. "Probably the best I have seen this year."
It takes a bit of sheer individual brilliance for the Cowboys to finally get over on that defense. Romo just heaves one down the field on third-and-nine in overtime and watches Dez Bryant go up, twist around, juggle the ball and somehow still come down with it despite Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph's near Velcro-level coverage.
If Dallas officials covered Ebola as well as Joseph covers Bryant, there wouldn't be a health crisis in the city. Or wise guy Texans fans who show up for the game dressed in Hazmat suit costumes.
"I don't think I could have any better coverage than what I had on the play," Joseph says. "It's the NFL. Those guys get paid too."
Tony Romo & The Fat Cats?
The Cowboys don't seem to realize how fortunate they are though. They're too busy delighting in 4-1, envisioning a start that even a Jason Garrett team cannot choke away.
The two teams' reactions to the close call show why the Texans' NFL future is brighter even if their record is one game worse. O'Brien already has the Texans pushing and pushing for more in year one. In season five of Jason Garrett, the Cowboys still seem awfully satisfied with just good enough. This is how a franchise finishes 8-8 every year.
"One thing I do like about this team is they never give up. They fight to the end."
Foster and Watt beat themselves up. Romo doesn't even mention his near choke on that clock run-out blunder. Getting the ball back with just 2:27 left in regulation, holding a seven-point lead, the Cowboys implode. They somehow commit a delay of game penalty coming out of a timeout. Romo gets called for intentional grounding. And they manage to run off a measly total of 28 seconds of game time.
Worse yet, Houston gets the ball back at the Dallas 45-yard line. Romo shouldn't just be calling out the no-show Cowboys fans. He should be calling out himself for sins against quarterbacking.
Ryan Fitzpatrick knows a thing or two about those. But Uncle Fitz somehow completes eight of nine passes for 93 yards in the fourth quarter, getting almost two thirds of his total yardage for the entire game in that comeback push.
One thing's very apparent. Those Texans who rolled over and quit so often in last year's 2-14 nightmare are nowhere to be found now.
"One thing I do like about this team is they never give up," O'Brien says. "They fight to the end."
A team with Arian Foster at the height of his powers (172 total yards on 25 touches) always has a chance. By overtime, the Cowboys defense can only hope Foster doesn't keep getting the ball. On that fateful third-and-two, he doesn't.
"They should get credit for their tenacity," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says of the Texans.
They should also get credit for having the brighter future. Being devastated over losing a game no one really expects you to win says a lot about a team. A super game leaves it apparent that one team's Super future is more likely, even if it's the team starting from further behind.