Record-breaking seasons by kicker Kris Brown and punt returner Jacoby Jones highlighted the Texans' special teams success in 2008. Both players set multiple franchise records and finished among the top performers at their craft in the AFC. Jones won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week Honors in Weeks 6 and 8, becoming the first Texan to win NFL weekly honors more than once in a season.
Kick returner André Davis' season was hampered by a finger injury that kept him out of four games, but he flashed the speed that makes him one of the most explosive returners in the NFL. Veteran punter Matt Turk improved in his second year in Houston and showed that he still had plenty of leg in his 13th NFL season.
Looking back Returns:Jones emerged as one of the most dangerous return men in the league this season. He finished fifth in the NFL with 12.1 yards per punt return, which set a franchise record. He returned two punts for touchdowns this year, which put him in a tie for third in the league.
That also gave Jones the career and single-season franchise records for punt return touchdowns with two. Avion Black had the only other punt return for touchdown in team history, a 76-yarder vs. Baltimore on Dec. 15, 2002.
"He's a big factor on the field," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "He can make big plays on the field."
Jones struggled with fumbles in the preseason, but special teams coordinator Joe Marciano corrected the problem before the season by making Jones carry a football with him wherever he went. The issue reemerged late in the season, as Jones fumbled four times and lost one over the final six games. That area of Jones' game will be one of the key focuses for the special teams unit this offseason.
At kick returner, Davis had a strong preseason and looked ready to build on an exceptional 2007 campaign in which he averaged 30.3 yards per kickoff return and scored three touchdowns. Those numbers, both franchise records, helped Davis to earn a new four-year contract before the season.
"He's been exceptional," Kubiak said after the Texans' third preseason game. "He's always dangerous to go the distance from back there. Our team gets excited when people kickoff to us. They get off the bench and watch him because he's got a chance to make a big play. He's even better (than last season)."
That excitement was tempered by Davis' broken finger, which caused him to miss four games from Weeks 8-11. Davis ended up averaging 23.1 yards per kickoff return with a long of 50 yards, not including a 93-yard touchdown in Week 12 at Cleveland that was nullified by a holding penalty.
Kicking: Brown, the Texans' all-time leading scorer, set the franchise single-season records for points (124), field goals (29) and field goal percentage (87.9) this year. His field goal percentage was tied for second best in the AFC.
He connected on his first 15 field goal attempts this season, the best start of his career, before having a 49-yard attempt blocked in Week 12 at Cleveland (11/23). He missed only once this season from within 40 yards.
Brown kicked the game-winning field goal at Green Bay in Week 13 and booted a 47-yarder to send the Texans into overtime in Week 3 at Jacksonville. He now has kicked 11 game-winning field goals in his career, including eight as a Texan.
Turk, the Texans' punter and holder on kicks, has turned in the best season in franchise history in terms of punting average in both of the last two seasons. His 2007 average of 41.7 yards per punt was the highest in team history, and he topped that mark by averaging 42.3 yards per punt this season. Turk also beat his team record from a year ago for fewest punts in a season. After punting a record-low 55 times in 2007, Turk had just 53 attempts this season.
The Texans' special teams should continue to thrive under Marciano in 2009. If Davis remains healty and Jones improves his ball security, the Texans will have two of the most dangerous kick returners in the NFL at their disposal.
Brown, the only kicker in team history, has gotten better in the last two seasons. He has converted 87.1 percent of his field goals since 2007, the best two-year stretch of his career, and is now seven-of-eight (87.5 percent) from 50 yards in past two seasons. The latter mark is good for second best in the NFL.
"He has a lot of faith and trust in his line when he kicks," Marciano said. "As long as he makes good contact, you watch all his balls, almost every one of them is down the middle on all his kicks. He's definitely been in the zone."
It remains to be seen whether the Texans will bring a punter in to training camp to compete with Turk, who could stand to improve upon his 35.2 net punting average. One battle to watch will be for long-snapping duties between tight end Clark Harris and Bryan Pittman. Harris played well in the last four games of the season while filling in for Pittman, who was serving an NFL suspension.