HOUSTON -- Amid the postgame swirl of players, coaches and cameras on the field, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub found the man in whose shadow he has played for years.
He congratulated Peyton Manning for setting an NFL record for the most touchdown passes in a single season, before returning to the Texans' locker room.
The Matt Schaub era has likely ended in Houston. What's likely the last pass he'll throw as the home starting quarterback at Reliant Stadium was a deep ball that resulted in an interception.
"It has definitely crossed my mind," Schaub said. "I didn't want to think too far ahead, but you know, I've played this game long enough. I know how things work, so you know it definitely crossed my mind."
He came into the game with a chance at redemption, though probably not one that could have extended his career in Houston.
His teammates and interim head coach asked for mercy from a disgruntled fan base. They weren't trying to spare his feelings, though that does matter to them. Rather, last time they did that in Reliant Stadium, many fans disrupted the Texans' offense with their boos.
There weren't boos this time around. At this point in the season, apathy has taken over. By the time Schaub threw that second interception, most of the remaining fans were people dressed in orange, trickling down the stands as close to the field and Manning's exit as they could get.
Who could have predicted it would end like this?
Certainly not the Texans, who awarded Schaub an extension worth $62 million with $24.75 million guaranteed the day before the 2012 season began. Sure, they protected themselves a bit -- they don't owe Schaub any guarantees after this season -- but you don't give that kind of contract to a player you don't believe can help you accomplish your goals.
With better receiving options and better protection, they thought, the Texans would pick right back up where last season ended and Schaub might return to the solid play he showed many times during a 12-4 2012 campaign. He was never Peyton Manning, he would never be Peyton Manning. But this Texans team didn't necessarily need that.
They got the good Matt Schaub in comeback bids in the first two games of the season. He began his pick-six streak against Tennessee in Week 2, but that pick-six only preceded an effective game-tying drive by Schaub. Worth noting here, too, is that Arian Foster (now on injured reserve) gutted out the two-point conversion after the touchdown to send the game to overtime.
That was the last time positivity graced this team.
The pick-sixes continued, the anger toward Schaub increased, the first benching came at the end of Schaub's worst game of the season in San Francisco. They let him play again the next week before begging for a spark from Case Keenum.
Today, Schaub's first pick broke the dam against which Manning pushed. Schaub threw to rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who went out instead of in, expecting Schaub's pass to go there. They haven't played together much in so long that their chemistry wasn't right.
Broncos safety Mike Adams picked off the pass and returned it 3 yards to the Texans' 28-yard line. It only took Manning two plays to throw his second touchdown pass of the day. It was his first of three fourth-quarter touchdown passes, the last a record-setting score.
Schaub will leave with the personal respect of teammates who know how hard it is to lose your starting job. Even the player with whom he had his most animated public spat ultimately offered encouragement.
"Matt's a great player," Andre Johnson said. "I think if he's not here, he'll get another opportunity. Matt can start in this league."
He did it for seven seasons with a team that will now try to take the step without him that they never quite could with him.