TAMPA, Fla. -- Winning the AFC South has become almost an annual event for the Houston Texans, as their victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday sealed the division title for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
Eventually, though, playoff success is necessary. In O’Brien’s six seasons in Houston, the teams have had a losing record only once in the regular season: quarterback Deshaun Watson's rookie season, when he tore his ACL in Week 8. But those same teams have gone 1-3 in the playoffs, with the only win coming in the 2016 postseason against the Oakland Raiders’ third-string quarterback, Connor Cook.
Last season, the Texans were 11-5 but were beaten by the division-rival Indianapolis Colts at home in the wild-card round. In the 2016 playoffs, after beating Oakland, the Texans lost to the New England Patriots. And in the 2015 season, Houston lost to the Kansas City Chiefs at home in the wild-card round, 30-0.
“Always looking to take the next step," cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. "Obviously that’s getting past the first round, getting into the second round and winning that game. ... It’s a blessing to be here, but at the end of the day, you want to take care of business when you get there, and that’s the mindset we have.”
Texans coach Bill O'Brien on Monday didn't want to comment on much more than Sunday's regular-season finale against the Titans.
"We all understand what the ultimate goal is," O'Brien said.
He'll stand behind his regular-season résumé.
“We have done some good things here,” O’Brien said. “We have won the division four out of five years. We have done it with different types of teams. We’ve done it two years in a row with a great young quarterback and a really good team around him. Our coaching staff and our players have overcome a lot of things -- injuries and different things that have happened -- and have just stayed the course.
"Any time you can win double-digit games two years in a row in this league, I think it is a good thing, but there are obviously other things that we are building toward and that we are a long way off from it. We have got to keep trying to get better.”
Running back Carlos Hyde, who had never won a division title in his first five NFL seasons, said it’s easy to see a difference in the culture in Houston compared to the teams he has been on in San Francisco, Cleveland and Jacksonville.
“OB [O’Brien] obviously has the formula,” Hyde said. “OB knows something.”
Watson, who has led the Texans to two of those division titles, also credited O'Brien, saying, "It just starts with the head coach and the front office.
"It definitely starts with how they run things up front and the guys they want in the locker room and the way that we prepare and the way that we go about our business,” Watson said.
The Texans showed on Saturday just what needs to improve. The offense struggled again, scoring just one touchdown, and a defense that had so much success taking away the ball from Tampa Bay and quarterback Jameis Winston also let the Buccaneers pile up 435 yards and keep it close despite the turnovers.
Houston finished with 229 yards, which is the second-fewest in a win under O’Brien, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Texans have higher expectations than just a division title. The team went all-in this past offseason, including trading for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills just before the season, not because they wanted another division title.
“I think we all understand what's at stake,” cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said. “We've got a game next week, and then we've got the playoffs. That's what really matters, so you can celebrate all you want, but what good does it do you? So we got to win next week, we got to win out.”