In the end, the Texans simply weren't good enough.
It was hammered home in the 41-28 loss to the Patriots that ended the Texans season, but it was something we saw coming for over a month.
The second half of the season and the playoffs, they were a mediocre 6-4. It was a total team effort, too. On defense, they allowed an average of 10 more points per game. The offense was equally ineffective, which put the defense on the field more often.
This off-season is much different from last year's, when the talk was "if they only had Matt Schaub" after the loss to the Ravens at this stage.
This year, they had Matt Schaub. His numbers against the Patriots on the surface don't look bad -- 34 of 51 for 343 yards, two touchdowns and an interception -- but many yards came when the game was decided. On third downs, he was 7 of 12 for 71 yards, but only three went for first downs.
They struggled on third down and in the red zone throughout the second half of the season. It was a combination of bad play calling, poor execution and and just bad luck.
Defensively, they weren't much better. Teams learned to spread out the Texans and attack their nickel and dime corners. The Texans did not force turnovers during the second half of the season. In their last four games -- in which they went 1-3 -- they forced two.
If the Texans simply look at the 13-5 record and second-round playoff appearance and spin that as a positive, they will be unlikely to repeat that next season.
As the offseason arrives, they need to look at why they weren't very good the second half of the season and seek to fix those issues -- at least the ones that can be fixed.
Going forward, this team will need to improve dramatically to stay on a level with the Broncos and Ravens. They will need to get even better to compete with the Patriots.
On offense, they have to improve the line, receiving corps, and quarterback. Schaub isn't going anywhere, so the improvement will have to come from better play calling and getting more weapons.
You have to wonder if Schaub was simply happy to get his contract extension. His decision making was off most of the season, especially when the pressure was on late. His passer rating of 90.7 was the second lowest of his Texans career and the lowest since the 2007 season, when he missed five games.
Either that, or he simply hasn't recovered 100 percent from last year's injury, although you would think he would have gotten better as the season went on, not regressed.
Regardless, he is the quarterback for next season and beyond, and the Texans will need a better effort from him just to stay where they are. The Colts figure to improve next season, making the AFC South no lock. The window for Andre Johnson and Arian Foster is going to close soon, and the Texans will find themselves starting over again.
Defensively, the outside pass rush must improve. Brooks Reed must bounce back from a sophomore slump, and Whitney Mercilus will likely need to step in for the ineffective Connor Barwin. Inside linebacker will be a priority, although Brian Cushing's return will help there. They will need help in the secondary as well, and at some point need to upgrade at nose tackle.
Even with that, it might not be enough. The Texans are a good team. But as we saw at the end of the season, they aren't good enough.
This offseason might answer whether or not they ever will be.