"We don't have excuses," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We didn't play well. We have to play better."
It's rather late for promises with the Bears now 5-9. They were eliminated from the NFC North Division chase, but like an unwelcome relative at a holiday party, they refuse to go away in the playoff hunt. They still exist in theory as contenders in the wild card chase.
There was plenty of blame for everyone on a Bears offense which enjoyed its own 40-yard line as an average starting point for drives but failed to get a first down on 8-of-14 possessions and had more than one first down on only three possessions.
It started with quarterback Chad Hutchinson, who was 17-of-34 passing with an interception and lost a fumble that went for a fourth-quarter touchdown, carried over to an offensive line that allowed two sacks and committed crucial penalties, and also fell on running back Thomas Jones. Jones lost the ball on a bad exchange during a handoff at the Texans' 16-yard line in the first quarter.
"The first half, we did some good things but didn't capitalize on it," Hutchinson said.
The Bears' first drive featured smash-mouth style, traditional NFC North December football. They ran 10 times for 35 yards and passed three times for 21 to reach the 16, then Jones and Hutchinson had a mix-up on a handoff and Jason Babin fell on it for Houston.
After that, they never had a drive longer than 21 yards until hurry-up time in the fourth quarter when they faced a 17-5 deficit.
"We moved the ball down the field to start the game," Smith said. "We felt like we made a couple big plays during that series, but you have to be able to finish. And we weren't able to do that on it.
"The momentum swung quickly and I don't know if we ever got it back."
Jones gained only 9 yards rushing on six more carries over the final three quarters after rushing nine times for 31 yards in the first quarter.
His fumble loomed large, but came so early that the Bears had plenty of time to regain the offensive momentum. They were just incapable of it.
"I didn't beat myself up at all because the thing is as far as the situation I took my normal steps to get the ball, it just wasn't there," Jones said about the mix-up on the handoff. That's it. It just a fumble and they're running down the field.
"What happened in that situation is it just wasn't there. I don't put the ball me or on anybody. Chad is my teammate. I can't put the blame on anybody. It's just one of those situations where the ball just wasn't there and it didn't get done."
They had plenty of opportunities to regain it.
In the second quarter, Edinger missed a 39-yard field goal that the Bears had to try after center Olin Kreutz got flagged for illegal motion on third-and-one. Edinger also threw an interception to Aaron Glenn at the Texans' 17-yard line on a fake field goal during a scoreless tie.
"Obviously the fumble hurt, but my false start penalty hurt too," Kreutz said. "Those are drive-killing penalties and those always hurt. At that point, we felt like they didn't stop us, we just stopped ourselves."
Even after Texans quarterback David Carr found Corey Bradford for a 37-yard second-quarter touchdown strike behind Bears cornerback Jerry Azumah, the Bears found a way to stay in it without much help from their offense.
Carr, who went 13-of-28 for 220 yards, tried to escape Tank Johnson and Adewale Ogunleye in the end zone and threw a pass away for intentional grounding and an automatic safety. But all the Bears' offense could do with a 7-2 deficit and good field position provided by the ensuing free kick was a 43-yard Edinger field goal to cut the deficit to 7-5 two plays into the fourth quarter.
The offense went 3-of-18 on third downs and failed to convert a single third down after Hutchinson's 14-yard pass to Desmond Clark in the second quarter.
Then the Bears' defense collapsed, as Kris Brown kicked a 20-yard fourth-quarter field goal following a 69-yard completion to Jabar Gaffney, Domanick Davis closed a 56-yard fourth-quarter drive with an 11-yard TD run and Charlie Anderson ran 60 yards with Hutchinson's fumble for a game-sealing TD.
Hutchinson refused to call it an embarrassing performance and even reacted angrily to the suggestion during a postgame press conference.
"I'm not going to use that," he said. "Why would I be embarrassed? Why? We prepare to be successful. We've been practicing hard all year. We don't go out there looking to embarrass ourselves. No. We're not embarrassed. We're disappointed."
Whatever they want to call it, the end result was their second straight defeat overall and fifth in five tries this season without injured middle linebacker in the lineup.
"It's not so much about the other team," cornerback Charles Tillman said. "It's mostly about us. We're so close, but always manage to make that small mistake or shoot ourselves in the foot.
"It gets frustrating at times, but I think we need losses like today to remind us that we need to work harder in order to get where we've got to go -- the playoffs and the Super Bowl."
After Sunday, that journey never looked longer.