ANYWHERE BUT HOUSTON — Last year, this was fun. The Houston Texans were 11-1 when they came to Foxborough. They were the Next Big Thing in the NFL. They were a team on the rise playing on “Monday Night Football” against a once-great franchise going stale. According to Houston wideout Andre Johnson, it was the biggest game in Texans history. Houston players wore their letterman jackets to Gillette and Football America waited for the torch to be passed to Gary Kubiak, Matt Schaub, and Arian Foster.
And then, the game started. It was an embarrassment. The Houston Texans were the Texas Frauds. The Patriots jumped to a 28-0 lead. Tom Brady was mercifully pulled when it was 42-7. The Patriots settled for a 42-14 win and sent the Texans on the road to ruin.
Less than a year later, the Patriots are flexing their muscles after last Sunday’s dramatic comeback over the Broncos. The 8-3 Patriots are favorites to run the table and return to the Super Bowl.
And the Texans are a joke. Schaub (eight touchdown passes, nine interceptions) has lost his job to Casey Kasem, err, Case Keenum. Foster is recovering from back surgery. Kubiak suffered a mini-stroke and has been coaching from a booth upstairs. He is expected to return to the sideline Sunday afternoon.
The Texans are 2-9. They have lost nine in a row, including a 13-6 loss at home last Sunday against the hideous Jacksonville Jaguars. Houston football fans are like 2013 Celtics fans. They want their team to tank. They are thinking about the 2014 draft. This year is over.
Since the Texans came to Foxborough last December, they have lost 13 of 17 games, including a 41-28 January playoff loss (the Patriots led, 38-13 in the fourth) in a return trip to Gillette.
“I feel very embarrassed,’’ Texans running back Ben Tate told Houston SportsRadio 610’s Will Grubb last week. “I feel bad for this city.’’
We can all second that emotion. These Texans have taken all the fun out of this. Last year it was something of a risk to ridicule the Texans. Mocking the Texans this year is like doing layup drills with an 8-foot rim. It’s simply too easy.
What about Houston itself? Easy to mock, no?
Houston gave Boston baseball Carl Everett and Roger Clemens. The Houston Rockets were the foils in two of the three championships of the Larry Bird era. Who could ever forget Ralph Sampson tangling with Jerry Sichting?
Houston — too close to New Orleans. The Houston Oilers (who became the Tennessee Titans) were AFL pioneers along with the Boston Patriots. The Oilers and Patriots tangled 33 times before the Houston team moved to Nashville. The “expansion” Texans and Patriots have met only five times, with the Patriots winning four. The Patriots’ sole loss to this Houston franchise was a meaningless regular-season finale played on Jan. 3, 2010. Most New England fans remember that game only because Wes Welker blew out his knee cutting on the crappy surface of Reliant Stadium.
For New England fans, there was one good day at Reliant in February 2004 when Adam Vinatieri split the uprights to give the Patriots a 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl.
Sunday’s is definitely a trap game for the Patriots. New England is coming off back-to-back national network showcase games against top-tier opposition. The demoralized Texans are coming off the embarrassment of the loss to the Jags. Belichick owns Wade Phillips defenses and is not about to lose to Case Keenum.
“I think they’re obviously a lot better than what their record says,’’ Belichick said this past week.
It’s “homecoming” weekend in Houston (perhaps an “Enchantment Under the Sea Dance”?). The locals plan to celebrate the rich tradition of the 12-year franchise. Maybe they can show video of their illegal formation on the first play of the biggest game in franchise history one year ago in Foxborough.
Houston’s stellar defensive end, J.J. Watt, claimed to have no knowledge of “homecoming.’’
“I don’t know what that is,’’ Watt said when asked about the team promotion. “I haven’t heard anything about that, so maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.’’
My money’s on Tom and Gisele for homecoming king and queen.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy