Houston Chronicle - - PRO FOOTBALL - BRIAN T. SMITH brian.smith@chron.com twit­ter.com/chron­bri­an­smith

FOXBOR­OUGH, Mass. — It should all end here. The Brock Osweiler year. The sea­son with­out J.J. Watt. The 9-7 team that, re­ally, should have al­ready died.

But they wore those shirts again this week. “GRIT” pasted across the back, the best thing that can be said about Bill O’Brien’s Tex­ans in full view for ev­ery­one to see.

And as you grudg­ingly turn on your TV on Satur­day night while wait­ing for the in­evitable, they spent the last few days say­ing this and ac­tu­ally sound­ing like they be­lieved it:

Duane Brown: “There’s not many peo­ple that’s ex­pect­ing us to go in there and com­pete and win this game, but we don’t re­ally care about that that much. We know we’re here for a rea­son.”

Ka­reem Jack­son: “If we start fast and we kind of jump on them, we can def­i­nitely go out and do what we want to do, and that’s win.”

An­to­nio Smith: “I love be­ing the un­der­dog. You know what I’m say­ing? You go right un­der the radar un­til the right time.”

DeAn­dre Hop­kins: “Just lis­ten to Ve­gas like y’all al­ways do.”

That last one was lay­ered with enough sar­casm to make O’Brien proud.

Over­whelm­ing un­der­dog

I haven’t found a sin­gle hu­man be­ing in the United States of Amer­ica who is crazy enough to choose the back-to-back AFC South champs over my sea­son­long pick for Su­per Bowl LI.

If you’re out there and scream­ing alone in space, let me know. It’s never too late to vote.

But can these Tex­ans hang? Can they sur­vive for four quar­ters and not have their hope­less be­liev­ers check­ing on their briskets by half­time?

Can they some­how con­vince you to keep your TV on un­til the fi­nal min­utes and fly out of Bos­ton with their honor and re­spectabil­ity in­tact? That hasn’t hap­pened here. Heck, the last time I was in New Eng­land some third-stringer put up 27 points on short no­tice, O’Brien’s shell-shocked squad didn’t even make a dent and the laugher was lit­er­ally over as soon as it started.

Gil­lette is bad news

“Tex­ans Once Again Not Ready for Prime Time” was the head­line.

“We came into Gil­lette Sta­dium and got smoked,” said hu­mil­i­ated for­mer Pa­triot Vince Wil­fork.

“27-0, 27-0!” screamed a bul­ly­ing Bill Belichick ad­mirer, show­er­ing the losers with pure hate as they scur­ried through the tun­nel and waited for a bad, bad night to fi­nally end.

Three-plus months af­ter Ja­coby Bris­sett un­leashed his best Tom Brady im­per­son­ation and four sea­sons af­ter the best Tex­ans team died hard on this same stage against a fran­chise it couldn’t touch, O’Brien gets an­other shot to prove his worth in Round Three vs. Belichick.

Win­ning would shake Hous­ton to its core, in­stantly ig­nite a week­long pa­rade on Kirby Drive and force Bob McNair to fi­nally hand the keys to a man who has long wanted con­trol over the Tex­ans’ fi­nal 53.

But let’s be to­tally hon­est: Just hang­ing around will be enough.

These Tex­ans dropped four of their last seven dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and barely won the three they did. (Thank you, Randy Bul­lock, Gus Bradley and Jim Ir­say.) They’re win­less in New Eng­land and have been thrashed by a com­bined 150-49; O’Brien has been outscored 54-6 in two blowouts by his men­tor.

Brady’s a hand­ful

Since the new mil­len­nium be­gan, Brady has cru­elly carved op­po­si­tion to pieces with a scalpel and just needs one more cham­pi­onship ring for a full set.

At 39, he’s a walk­ing protein ma­chine who splurges on avo­cado ice cream.

The Tex­ans? They’re pray­ing Osweiler doesn’t get happy feet again, Romeo Cren­nel’s de­fense doesn’t break apart at the worst time and no one re­mem­bers McNair’s fran­chise is 106-134 all-time.

There are un­der­dogs and then there are un­der­dogs. And then there’s the un­scal­able moun­tain up north these Tex­ans face.

“This is still a fairly young or­ga­ni­za­tion rel­a­tive to a lot of or­ga­ni­za­tions in this league,” O’Brien said. “Last week was only the third play­off win in this or­ga­ni­za­tion’s his­tory. That’s a big deal. Now, it’s about tak­ing an­other step and tak­ing a step that’s go­ing to be a very chal­leng­ing step to take — we all un­der­stand that. There’s only eight teams left, and I think that’s a great op­por­tu­nity for our play­ers.”

Search­ing for re­spectabil­ity

So be re­spectable. Don’t get em­bar­rassed again. Don’t fall face-first into this year’s ver­sion of 30-0 Chiefs.

“The stage is set for us,” Jack­son said. “At the end of the day, the out­side world don’t mat­ter to us. All that mat­ters is if we go out and we ex­e­cute. That’s what it’s go­ing to come down to.”

We’ve been through the $72 mil­lion gam­ble, the mir­a­cle against In­di­anapo­lis, lasers in Mex­ico City, Bul­lock’s blun­der and Con­nor Cook, and these Tex­ans are search­ing for re­spect.

Show up and stick around in New Eng­land in mid-Jan­uary — maybe even make the Pa­tri­ots sweat — and then that AFC South ban­ner will mat­ter. Then we can start to re­think things.

Sea­son largely char­ac­ter­ized by a fi­asco at quar­ter­back will crash to a halt, but sliver of re­spect can be sal­vaged

Brett Coomer / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Quar­ter­back Brock Osweiler leads the Tex­ans into Gil­lette Sta­dium af­ter be­gin­ning the sea­son as the starter, los­ing the job to Tom Sav­age and then re­gain­ing it when Sav­age suf­fered a con­cus­sion.

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