It’s said that confidence flows from demonstrated ability.
In order to truly feel confident that you can accomplish something, you need to have carried out a mission before. Or perhaps even been dangerously close to carrying it out.
Getting his team to believe it can beat the Patriots -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- is going to be the biggest hurdle for Bill O’Brien to clear this week.
The Texans opened as 16-point underdogs. They lost 27-0 to the Patriots in Week 3 with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Now Tom Brady’s back. And the Patriots defense is better than it was then (although that was the one game before he was traded where Jamie Collins played like Jamie Collins could play). Houston stumbled around all season, winding up in the playoffs with their 9-7 record thanks in large part to the festival of mediocrity that is the AFC South. In September, Brock Osweiler had at least an air of competency. Now, benched, belittled and plugged back into the starting lineup, he’s had precious few, “Yeah, I can DO this!” moments.
They advanced through the Wild Card round with relative ease but they know as well as we all do that the triumph over Oakland comes with the caveat that they were facing a quarterback making his first NFL start.
Connor Cook performed as one would expect:18 for 45 for 161 yards and three picks to go with his lone touchdown. The Raiders were 2 for 16 on third down and punted 10 times on their 15 possessions.
Aside from the September loss to the Patriots, Houston lost at home to the Pats 27-6 last December at home and 34-31 in December of 2013, also in Houston.
The games that caused the franchise mental scars that are still visible came in 2012.
The 11-1 Texans got off the bus for a Monday Night Football matchup with the Patriots wearing letterman jackets. They got stuffed in a locker, 42-14.
After that, the Texans lost two of their final three games to close the regular season then had to come to Gillette again for a divisional playoff game. They fell behind 38-13 early in the fourth and lost 41-28.
Asked about the jackets in September, J.J. Watt said he had no idea where his was anymore. “Those were some bad memories. I hope (the jacket is gone). I don’t want to bring that back up at all. Those were some bad days.”
O’Brien, speaking Sunday before he knew his opponent, is smart to send the message to his team that it should look no further than the end of their shoes as they walk toward the weekend.
“I think the big key for us is to just take care of our own business in here during the week," he said. "Let’s work to put together a good game plan. Let’s teach the game plan. Let’s have good practices and then let’s go to wherever we got to go and let’s see what happens.”
Texans owner Bob McNair attempted to say it could have been different in September when asked about the earlier meeting with the Patriots.
"When we went up their earlier, we shot ourselves in the foot," he explained. "We had two fumbles in the first quarter and gave up the ball on the 20-yard line. Doesn’t matter who you play, you can’t win playing that.”
Nope. And sometimes, there’s no explaining it. A team just has a collective bad day.
Other times, the collective bad day can be a matter of performance conforming to the anticipated result. One bad thing happens and the, “Here we go again…” starts to creep in.
There’s no stat for that. But there’s no anyone denying a team’s collective mental state will ebb and flow during a game and that the ebbs will be deeper if you’ve got past experience that flows don’t usually come against a particular opponent.
O’Brien will have his work cut out for himself this week simply in convincing his team to not flinch, never mind walking in and taking the game from the Patriots.