The 2011 National Football League season ended Sunday with both Lone Star State franchises feeling disappointed about the final game of the regular season.

The Houston Texans lost a 23-22 squeaker to the Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium before 71,512 fans while the Dallas Cowboys were overpowered 31-14 by the New York Giants in a winner-take all contest.

Needless to say neither the Texans nor the Cowboys fans were very happy with Sunday’s results. Twin wins would have sent both of the franchises to the NFL Playoffs which begin Saturday.

However, the Cowboys’ loss to the Giants was much more devastating than Houston’s, although it was the third straight setback the Texans suffered in as many games. Dallas had many chances to win the NFC East Division prior to Sunday and just frittered them away.

The Cowboys played the Giants Dec. 11 at home and blew a 12-point fourth quarter lead and ended up losing 37-34. A win at Philadelphia on Christmas Eve also would have locked up the division title for the Cowboys, but they were upended 20-7 in that contest.

It all came down to Sunday’s game at the Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N. J. which had been switched from an afternoon game to a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on national television.

Before the Cowboys knew what had hit them, they were on the short end of a 21-0 score just before halftime. The Giants dominated the first half by rolling up 277 total yards to Dallas’ 96 and 15 first downs to the Cowboys’ six. Both Dallas head coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan blamed the players lack of effort for the first-half results.

“It comes down to execution,” Garrett told the Houston Chronicle referring to his team’s play in the first half. “They (Giants) did a good job on offense moving the ball, both running and throwing it. Our biggest issue on offense early on was the negative plays. They got us out of rhythm and into some bad down-and-distance situations.”

The Cowboys scored both touchdowns in the second half and got as close as 21-14 with 10:15 left in the game before the defense failed to stop two drives that resulted in 10 Giants points and earned New York the NFC East championship and the right to host the Atlanta Falcons at noon Sunday in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs.

If Dallas owner Jerry Jones decides to fire either Garrett or Ryan he certainly has my blessing.
Although the Houston Texans have lost their final three games, it didn’t jeopardize their playoff status. Of course three wins would have given them a first-round bye, but the three losses merely puts them into the playoffs on a negative note.

But Sunday’s 23-22 loss to the Titans probably could have been avoided if the game meant something. But it didn’t and Head Coach Gary Kubiak wisely rested prize running back Arian Foster to avoid an unnecessary injury, defensive specialist Johnathan Joseph and tight end Owen Daniels.

Starting third-string quarterback T. J. Yates drove the team flawlessly downfield 90 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown on the Texans’ first possession, but suffered a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder and was wisely taken out of the game and replaced by veteran Jake Delhomme.

On his only series Yates was 4-of-4 for 47 yards in staking the Texans to a 7-0 lead. According to Monday’s Chronicle “what Yates accomplished in his only series may have been more impressive than anything he’s done to that point.”

As the game progressed, Kubiak sat down more of his regulars and the team continued to play Tennessee on equal terms.

With the Titans leading 23-16 late in the game, Delhomme drove the team downfield and hit little-used Bryant Johnson on a five-yard pass to narrow the margin to 23-22 with 14 seconds left in the game.

Realizing that kicking the extra point would probably put the game into sudden-death overtime, Kubiak decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win, but a bad snap messed up the play and the Texans’ chance for the victory in regulation.

“You would never go for two in any other situation,” Kubiak explained after the game, “but where we were physically today. I had to get them to next week.”

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who missed the Carolina and Indianapolis losses while recovering from surgery, worked from the press box Sunday. “It was good for the staff and everybody to have Wade back,” Kubiak said.

The Texans found out at the end of the game that they would be playing the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Reliant Stadium in the first playoff game in the franchise’s history.

This would be sort of a re-match of the Dec. 11 game in Cincinnati when Yates drove the Texans to a last-second touchdown for a 20-19 victory that secured the AFC South Division title for Houston.

Kubiak told the team after the game, “Guys, whatever disappointment you have, I’ve got it. It’s mine. You should not be disappointed. We wanted to win the game, but we played a lot of people.

“Now we’ve got a big game for this city and our team, and they deserve to be as healthy as they can be going into a game that’s huge for everybody. They (Bengals) are a lot like us. They’ve been playing a young quarterback (Andy Dalton). They run the ball well, and they play good defense. I think it’s going to be a heck of a battle,” Kubiak concluded.

The early line out of Las Vegas has the Texans (10-6) favored by three points over Cincinnati (9-7). The later game Saturday pits Detroit (10-6) at New Orleans (13-3) at 7 p.m. with the Saints favored by 10 points. Both games will be televised on NBC (Channel 11 on Time Warner Cable).

On Sunday at noon Atlanta (10-6) visits the New York Giants (9-7), who are favored over the Falcons by 3 ½ points. The second game features Pittsburgh (12-4) at Denver (8-8) at 3:30 p.m. with the Steelers favored by 7 ½ points. The Atlanta-New York game was be viewed on FOX while the Atlanta-Pittsburgh contest will be shown on CBS.

The two AFC teams earning first-round byes are the New England Patriots (13-3) and the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) while the Green Bay Packers (15-1) and the San Francisco 49ers (13-3) have byes for the NFC.

KWICKIES…It looks like my alma mater, McNeese State, will be part of history being made this fall. The Texas Aggies open their 2012 season as a new member of the Southeastern Conference against the McNeese Cowboys on Sept. 1 at Kyle Field. The Aggies still are looking for two other non-conference opponents for next season—preferably a couple of weak sisters—so they will have a better chance to have a .500 season in 2012.

And speaking of the SEC, this year’s national champion will be the sixth straight to come from that elite conference when undefeated LSU meets Alabama in a rematch of their regular-season match-up that was won by the Tigers 9-6. I look for a bit more scoring in Monday night’s game and wouldn’t be surprised if the Crimson Tide comes out on top of this one like 20-16.

In bowl action through Monday, Texas schools have won all five bowl games, so far. TCU beat Louisiana Tech 31-24 in the Poinsettia Bowl, the Texas Longhorns downed California 21-10 in the Holiday Bowl, Baylor outlasted Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl, the Texas Aggies hung on for a 33-22 win over Northwestern in the Meineke Bowl and Houston steamrolled Penn State 30-14 in the Ticket City Bowl Monday.

JUST BETWEEN US…After being the first Seattle Seahawks’ player since 2008 to be named to the starting All-Pro team, Orange native Earl Thomas fielded questions at the Seahawks’ press conference last week. Earl said he was pleased that he was chosen by his peers and the fans but he credited his teammates for doing their jobs so well that enabled him to play his free safety position at that high level. He thought that his lower number of interceptions (2) from his rookie year (5) might hurt his chances of making the elite team, but Head Coach Pete Carroll said his overall defensive team play improved immensely over last season.