Brian Cushing didn't have the follow up season to his team MVP year in 2011. It's been hard for the team's defensive captain to watch this season and its conclusion Sunday.
"You know it's a helpless feeling not being to help and contribute," Cushing said after Sunday's loss to the Patriots in the Divisional round of the AFC playoffs. "It's a feeling that I've never felt before. I've never missed a season. I've never missed more than a game. Having to sit out a full year and knowing my season was done in Week Five was a very different feeling."
Before Cushing went down with an ACL tear against the Jets on Monday night many were calling the Texans the best team in the AFC. Houston was 5-0 for the first time in franchise history. The Texans struggled with forcing teams off the field on third down as a defense later in the season, but in those first five games with Cushing, the Texans held their opponent to under 30 percent on third down in three of those five contests.
Although Houston would go on to win 11 of their first 12 games, the defense was never the same without its heart and soul. In USA Today's Week Six power rankings the Texans remained the NFL's best team. But as the team's name was perched next to the number one, the caption beside it read,
"Brian Cushing's season-ending knee injury takes the heart out of arguably the NFL's best defense."
Wade Phillips' unit was never the same after the loss of Cushing. Veterans Bradie James, Barrett Ruud finished the season playing middle linebacker after both Tim Dobbins and Darryl Sharpton would find themselves next to Cushing on IR. James led the team with 11 tackles in Sunday's loss to the Patriots. Dobbins set a franchise record and tied for the NFL lead with four fumble recoveries. Cushing has constantly been around the Texans' facility throughout his rehabilitation process not only working on his injured knee but keeping his leadership role with his teammates.
"I just try to be as active as I can. I just tried to interact and tried to help," Cushing said in the visitors locker room at Gillett Stadium.
The Texans now have to look toward next season and getting over the road block that is the Divisional round of the playoffs. The Texans have been bounced from the playoffs in that round the last two seasons. After missing more time than any other point in his career, Cushing has been physically and mentally training for the 2013 season for months.
"I know I'm excited just to get back," Cushing said after being asked about the offseason.
On December 28th Cushing was asked in the locker room how his rehabilitation progress is going.
“I’m way ahead of schedule," Cushing said quickly and confidently. "I’m doing really good. But at the same time, there’s no real reason to push it right now. I’m still a ways away."
“A lot of weighted stuff. A lot of single-leg things. We haven’t started jogging yet, but I probably think within the next month we will.”