Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/22/11
In the aftermath of their surprising loss to the Panthers, the Texans offered the strongest indication on how far they've come defensively. There was disappointment over a performance that was more pedestrian than poor, talk of returning to form and maintaining standards previously set. Carolina amassed only 168 yards heading into the fourth quarter, but the Texans had been so dominant defensively during their seven-game winning streak that the late Cam Newton-led touchdown drive represented something unfamiliar and unacceptable. "There were a few plays in there that just got out on us," Texans inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It wasn't a terrible defensive effort, it was just a few plays where we weren't where we should be, we weren't correct on our assignments. And those few plays cost us. "You want a high standard, and that's what we have here now. We have a high standard defensively. Watch the way we practice and guys are catching balls on us in seven-on-seven and we're upset like, What's going on?' It's a standard of how we play here now, and I like the standard we've set. And I want to see it stay that way for a long time." With their defense ranked second in the NFL, it's too easy to forget just how far the Texans (10-4) have come in one season under first-year coordinator Wade Phillips and through the additions of free-agent cornerback Johnathan Joseph and free safety Danieal Manning, and rookie defensive end J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Brooks Reed. One fourth-quarter hiccup against the Panthers doesn't negate the fact that the Texans are ranked fifth in rushing yards allowed despite preseason concerns over their vulnerability up the middle. And Newton, regardless of his splendor, didn't erase the statistic of the Texans jumping from 32nd in average passing yards surrendered to second. The Texans are allowing a 50.6 completion percentage, the fifth-lowest percentage over the last 20 years. Their turnaround is remarkable. When such brilliance is compromised, pride is shaken. In advance of their AFC South matchup against the Colts (1-13), the Texans took inventory of how they got where they were, why they slipped against the Panthers, and what is required to resume their dominating ways. "I would obviously hope that we would keep playing great all the way through but if you want to say maybe we refocused after that, maybe we did," Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. "We were playing really well that game until two drives (in the fourth quarter). I think that is our standard and I think guys afterwards felt bad about it because we didn't play to that standard the whole time. "I think it is feasible (to maintain that level of performance), and that's what we need to do every game." Texans defensive end Antonio Smith likened the performance to a rude awakening, a result that caused him to reminisce on a similar breakdown suffered by his Cardinals late in the 2008 season. Arizona dropped four of five games before winning its finale against the Seahawks, allowing on average 41.8 points during those ugly losses. The Cardinals were sufficiently jolted by their struggles that they reaffirmed their commitment and rolled to Super Bowl XLIII. Smith witnessed similar signs of rededication in the Texans this week, examples of teammates working late and committing to film study, of veterans setting the pace during the final weeks of a marathon season. It's only natural to feel weary heading into Week 16, to acknowledge the bumps and bruises sapping you physically and testing you mentally. But the Texans haven't become statistical defensive marvels through happenstance. The work ethic that got them near the top of the league's heap must be ratcheted up. There are standards of excellence to protect. "A standard has been set here, and there ain't no going back from that," Smith said. "To be OK with anything that has not been what we've been consistently doing is, in my opinion, a letdown. You're letting yourself down, you're letting your teammates down, so regardless of the situation or how hard the task may be, it's our job to stand up to it." Follow me on Twitter @moisekapenda
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