FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With their Monday Night dreams in shambles all around them, with Tom Brady having all but declared them championship amateurs, the Houston Texans find themselves facing a Gary Kubiak they've never quite seen before.
Their usually ultra-positive coach isn't just pissed. He's questioning what they're made of, their very manhood.
"Kubiak came in and challenged us as men," Texans safety Danieal Manning says. "He knows what this team can be. We all know what type of talent we have and how this is unacceptable.
"He put it all out there. He put a mirror on us and we saw what he saw and we didn't like it."
Kubiak calls for the Texans to be more Patriot like, to play and prepare with the relentless, merciless intensity New England shows in bulldozing their national stage visions 42-14.
" It was an ass whipping," veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson says.
"He told us, 'You seen what it takes to be a championship team,' " defensive end Antonio Smith says. "You've seen it up close. Now, are you going to do it? Are you going to commit?' "
If this isn't Kubiak shoving all his chips to the center of the table Jim Fassel style, it's as close as he's liable to ever come. Kubiak is not one for public proclamations. He abhors drawing attention to himself. In fact, Manning admits that the coach asks his players to not talk much about his postgame talk to the team right after he delivers it.
It's a rant that clearly hit a nerve though. They'll be a lot of energy spent dissecting the Texans play calling after this one and Kubiak himself says, "It's obviously not good when you get beat like that" when questioned in his postgame press conference.
But the Texans' season will not hinge on whether Kubiak keeps throwing and puts the one player he can't afford to lose (Matt Schaub) at risk down 28 points in the fourth quarter. It's going to come down to how an extremely talented, but still somewhat immature team responds to his manhood challenge.
Kubiak goes out of character to make sure the Texans find theirs in time.
"Not quite like that before," Manning says when asked if Kubiak's ever delivered a similar, unmistakable, direct challenge to the entire team.
The coach knows the now 11-2 Texans are at the telling point in their season. Sure, they'll never be taken seriously nationally again until they beat a team like the Patriots in the playoffs. But that's not Kubiak's concern. Not right now.
The Texans may as well have soiled themselves. Who knew you could get intimidated in the coin toss?
Not with Andrew Luck and a Colts team that somehow keeps pulling out close games coming into Reliant Stadium with a 9-4 record on Sunday. Not with the Texans clinging to a one-game lead over the Patriots (10-3) for homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. A one-game lead that suddenly seems like a 10-game deficit.
"It sure doesn't feel like we have a better record than the Patriots right now," Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips says. "But that's the reality of it."
One that is in danger of being completely wiped out if this mushrooms into a few bad weeks. Smith mentions how easily one loss can grow into two and three, and then a first-round playoff departure, if you're not mentally strong. The veterans on this team have been there before. They've experienced an NFL season death spiral.
Kubiak's challenge is geared to swat down any chance of that.
Tom Brady's Cold-Blooded Grip
Brady and Patriots leave no doubt who is better geared for a big game challenge at this point. These Patriots of Bill Belichick and Brady seize the night like a championship prizefighter. They're Michael Jordan smelling fear, a bull seeing red, Charlie Sheen at a strip club.
And the incredible honed-in focus begins in the pregame handshakes.
"Kubiak came in and challenged us as men," Texans safety Danieal Manning says. "He knows what this team can be."
"I could sense it from the coin toss," Smith says of a routine led by Brady (of course). "It was business. Straight up business. They'd barely look at you. They'd shake your hand firmly, but they wouldn't look you in the eye. They were letting us know it was on."
And the Texans . . . well, they may as well have soiled themselves. Who knew you could get intimidated in the coin toss?
Houston commits an inexcusable illegal formation penalty on the very first offensive play of the game. "First play of the game we line up wrong," Kubiak says. "That's really concerning. You know what you're fixing to do on the first play of the game for days and you line up wrong . . ."
The Texans are only getting started with the comedy roll of errors too. On the Patriots' third touchdown (in their first three possessions), tight end Aaron Hernandez goes completely uncovered. He splits out wide near the goal line . . . and no Texans follow.
You'll never see an NFL team score with less resistance than this.
Phillips stands in the middle of the locker room and largely blames himself when asked about the defensive meltdown. But he allows, "we had someone who was supposed to be there" on the Hernandez no-defense touchdown.
There are clown car acts better coordinated than this Texans' Monday Night Football display.
"It was an ass whipping," veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson says.
The crowd mocked them. And you can bet that the Patriots are chuckling about them behind closed doors.
And yet, Kubiak knows it does not have to be the beginning of the end. Or the moment that everyone ends up remembering about Houston's season of Super promise. It will take weeks and weeks — and a push deep into January to do it — but the Texans do have the ability to grab a redo.
So the coach breaks from his usual script and gets on his team in an otherwise quiet locker room in New England.
What type of men are you?, Kubiak essentially asks/demands.
We'll all find out soon enough.