Finally, a Texans finale with meaning

The Houston Texans enter the last week of the regular season in

an unfamiliar position.

For the first time in franchise history, they are still in the

playoff hunt.

They’ll need some help to get their first playoff berth, but a

win over New England will give this long-struggling franchise its

first winning record.

“I’m excited for our players,” coach Gary Kubiak said.

“That’s what you work for, to be sitting here with the last game

of the season and we walk out of here Sunday it means everything to

our team and it means having a winning record for the first time.

There’s just so much for us to play for.”

The Texans won their third straight game Sunday to improve to

8-7. Kubiak knows his team must stay focused on beating the

Patriots (10-5) and can’t worry about playoff scenarios.

“We’re going to have to beat the top franchise in football to

get to that point,” he said. “So it’s a great challenge for us as

coaches, as players, and I think that’s the way it’s supposed to

be. If we want to get there some day, these are the types of people

we’ve got to be able to compete against. So we’ve got to be as good

as we can be this weekend.”

Even with a win, the Texans would still be competing with the

New York Jets, Baltimore and Denver for that elusive first playoff

berth. To get in, they’d need the victory and two of those three

teams to lose.

Though their chances of getting the final AFC wild-card spot are

a long shot, to even be in this situation is a milestone for a

franchise that began play in 2002. Houston has gone 8-8 in each of

the last two seasons, but needed a win in each finale simply to

reach .500.

Kubiak is proud of his team for not falling apart during a

four-game losing streak that preceded their current winning stretch

and one that had many wondering if he would still be around to

coach next season. The Texans lost those four games by an average

of 4.75 points.

“I just think we stayed focused,” Kubiak said. “I don’t think

we were playing bad football, I think we were doing some good

things and we lost some tough games. I think they kept that in

perspective and just kept working and got a few breaks along the

way.”

The Texans have been propelled back into contention on the

strength of their high-powered passing game. Andre Johnson leads

the league in yards receiving with 1,504, his second straight

1,500-yard season. Matt Schaub hasn’t missed a game for the first

time in his three-year tenure in Houston and tops NFL passers with

4,467 yards.

“It’s pretty special,” Kubiak said. “They’ve come a long way

together. These two guys got a chance to hopefully play together

for a long time and be successful.”

The defense continues its improvement after ranking near the

bottom of the league through the first three weeks of the season.

Houston has been helped by the development of rookie linebacker

Brian Cushing, who leads the AFC with 128 tackles. He also has four

interceptions, four sacks, two forced fumbles and a safety this

season.

He has been bothered by numerous injuries over the past few

weeks, but has not missed any playing time. Kubiak expects that to

continue this weekend despite Cushing fracturing one of his fingers

against the Dolphins.

The Texans will have to shuffle their safeties again this week

after Dominique Barber injured a hamstring on Sunday and will be

out this week. Houston was already without safety Eugene

Wilson.

Kubiak will be looking for a bigger contribution from Mario

Williams against the Patriots after the 2006 top overall pick

didn’t have a tackle against Miami. He’s got 41 tackles, eight

sacks and has forced two fumbles this season.

“He needs to factor more in the game,” Kubiak said. “He

played hard, he did some good things, but he could have factored a

lot more in the game. We’re going to all have to take it up and

he’s part of all of it.”