On Friday afternoon at Reliant Stadium, Texans linebacker Brian Cushing met with the media for the first time since suffering a season-ending torn ACL on Monday night against the New York Jets.
Cushing quietly walked to his locker from the training room toward the end of players' media availability period, which is usually short and uneventful on Fridays. He walked without crutches, without noticeable discomfort and, aside from a sleeve covering the lower half of his injured left leg, looked the same as he did a week ago.
The defensive captain stood at his locker for several minutes answering questions from a small group of reporters.
How are you doing, Brian?
"I'm doing well," he said. "It's all part of the game, so the next step is just to get healthy and get back on the field as fast as I can."
How tough is it for you to deal with all this?
"Obviously, I'd like to be on the field, but signing up for this game, I understand this is a part of it. It's been a long time since I was injured last. But my responsibility is to get healthy and get back to this team."
What did you think about the league fining Jets guard Matt Slauson $10,000 for the hit that knocked you out for the year?
"I don't think anything's going to change, really, from that. They can do whatever they want. I'm just worried about getting back and getting healthy again and feeling good. That was up to them. Whether they do it or not… It's not going to change how my knee feels or when I'll get back on the field. That's just up to me now, the doctors, and (I'll) rehab as best as I can."
Do you think it was it a legal hit?
"I'm not sure. Whether it was or it wasn't, I'm not playing for a while. So that's not going to change my opinion on anything. It happened. I'm not a guy that's going to look back into the past and see what I could've done differently. I'm going to look into the future and see how I can improve."
Has Slauson reached out to you?
What was it like watching the game, in your hometown, on crutches in the second half?
"Definitely not the way I would've envisioned it. But I'm the kind of guy that remembers that kind of stuff. Remember how I feel. I'll never forget the pain I was going through, more mentally than anything else, in just having to sit out. When rehab gets stuff and the offseason's long, I'll remember those moments, (and think about) just how sweet it will be to come back and play football again."
What was it like when you welcomed all of your teammates coming back into the tunnel after the game, knowing you weren't going to be able to play again this year?
"I'm the kind of guy that had to accept it real quick. My role completely changed in a matter of minutes. Whatever I can do now to help these guys, I'm going to. This team's still going to win, this team's still going to prepare the same. They're going to be great. I'm going to do everything I can to help them be the best they can."
What has the community since the injurysupport meant to you?
"It's been awesome. It's been really special. It's a great team, city and just environment to be a part of. When something like that happens and everyone's got your back, it's a hell of a feeling."
What about the support from inside the locker room, the outpouring of your teammates saying what you mean to them?
"It's special. It really is. When you have that much respect from your teammates, that's what you play for. It just makes me want to get healthy that much quicker and, when I do, I'll just play that much harder for them."
Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Friday that Cushing has been at Reliant Stadium every day since his injury, working and "letting his teammates know he's got confidence in 'em and to keep plugging."
"I want to be around," Cushing said. "I want to be here for the guys and help them as best as I can, whether it's in spirit or coaching tips or whatever. I'm going to be here every single practice, every single day, just doing whatever I can. I've got a new role now, and I've accepted it."
Before his injury, Cushing's role was the on-field leader of one of the league's best defenses. He led the pregame huddle each week and got his teammates fired up for kickoff. He was the Texans' tone-setter, their leading tackler, their sideline-to-sideline playmaker in the middle of the defense.
Now, his role is to support the team from the sideline, in meeting rooms, in street clothes.
"Different guys are going to play that haven't before and get used to different roles and whatnot, but I'm excited," Cushing said. "It's the 'Next Man Up' kind of attitude, and I think that we're going to do a good job. We definitely dealt with a lot of adversity last year, especially from an injury standpoint.
"I think this team's strong. This is a mentally strong team that's built with a lot of depth, so I'm not too concerned about that, and I know whoever steps into that role, or whether it's all 11 guys collectively, they're going to do a great job."
Cushing does not yet have a timetable for his return. He also has not decided who will perform his surgery, which should be in 2-3 weeks once the swelling in his knee subsides.
"I'm going to be smart, make sure that when I do come back on the field I'll be 100 percent," he said. "Whenever that is, I will be 100 percent, and I'll just make sure I'm better than ever."