INDIANAPOLIS — Danieal Manning does not want to hear any speeches. He's sick of motivational ploys and tired of all the voices offering solutions.
"There is too much talking going on," the veteran safety says in the quiet of another lost-opportunity afternoon. "And there's not enough doing and leading by example.
"These are grown men. Grown men who've being playing football, 10, 15 years. Grown men who've all been the man on teams from Pop Warner on up. Grown men who all understand what's at stake.
"Enough talk. We need action."
The once 11-1 Houston Texans have seen their season disintegrate into a spiral of losses and jibber jabber. And now, after the biggest embarrassment yet (a 28-16 loss to an Indianapolis Colts team with no playoff positioning to play for), much of what they worked so hard for all season is just a ripped-away memory.
I t was supposed to be their weekend of rest. Now, it's a weekend of duress.
Homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs? Long gone. The first round bye that a battered, beaten up team so badly needs? Long gone.
Any chance of making that Super Bowl run to New Orleans? Most would say that is but a pipe dream now too.
"No one is going to be picking us now," tight end/fullback James Casey says.
How could anyone in their right mind?
This team doesn't look shaken. It seems shattered. The Texans (12-4) had two weeks to take care of their business, two chances to grab the AFC's No. 1 seed. They never really came close to winning either game.
Contrast that with the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, who were given one chance each to secure the bye. The result? Peyton Manning puts the Broncos up 21-3 at halftime. Tom Brady cruises to a 21-0 edge. With a prize on the line, they both win ultra easy.
So now the Texans go plummeting to the No. 3 seed, setting up a first-round playoff rematch with a 10-6 Cincinnati Bengals team that has to like its chances much better this January than last. The game will be at Reliant Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday — much too early for the Texans.
This was supposed to be their weekend of rest. Now, it's a weekend of duress.
These Texans somehow look more vulnerable than last year's injury-riddled longshots.
"It's like any other tournament, in any sport," Casey says. "When you're in the tournament, all you've got to do is to win a game, to make something happen and then you can get rolling.
"Anything can happen when you get that spark. You've got to believe."
Who would have ever thought that the Bengals and Katy kid Andy Dalton could go into a playoff game against Matt Schaub more confident than they went into a playoff game against T.J. Yates?
That's the stark reality though. These Texans somehow look more vulnerable than last year's injury-riddled longshots.
The Bengals are playing the Texans at the same time (3:30 p.m.) in the same setting (Reliant Stadium) on the same day of the week (Saturday) as the two teams met in the playoffs last January. That game ended with a 31-10 Houston win.
Who can be that sure about this one?
Less Confidence, More Problems
The mighty haven't just fallen. They've been stripped to their underwear — their psyche on display for everyone to poke, prod and pity.
Left tackle Duane Brown — one of the most standup, no-BS guys in the locker room — gave a hint of just how daunting a mind block the Texans are facing. Brown believes the Texans are letting bad plays linger and "snowball" into more and more bad plays.
"We put ourselves in tough positions and can't get ourselves out of it," he says. "It just happens, drive after drive.
". . . We have to let plays go."
It turns out the Texans don't need Andrew Luck or what the quarterback calls the "rock star" return of cancer-stricken Colts coach Chuck Pagano to torment them. They'll do it to themselves.
They'll finally grab a lead and give up a 101-yard kickoff return to a journeyman who is just trying to stay in the NFL. They'll get Luck into a third-and-23 and let him zip a pass right down the middle to another rookie for a 70-yard touchdown pass that didn't just break the Texans' backs.
It may as well have ground their spirits into dust.
"We were in a zone, Cover 3 and they found one of the weak spots in the zone," safety Glover Quin says.
When even the usually positive Kubiak allows, "We're splintered in a lot of places," you know things are bleak.
Who knew a team this talented could be this fragile?
That's the thing. The Texans still have talent across the roster. Player after player mentions the talent level on the team, from J.J. Watt to Arian Foster and beyond. It's the last crutch the Texans can lean on, one thing they all seem to believe in.
"We have all the talent in the world," Watt says.
"This team has not peaked," defensive end Antonio Smith insists. "This team can be so much more dominant."
More talk as a Super season runs off a cliff?
"Our goals have to go farther than the first round," Brown says.
That's the first action though. And Danieal Manning isn't the only waiting to see if it's made.