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Daniels playing at elite level


Andre Johnson got company from teammate Owen Daniels at the Pro Bowl last year. Now, the Texans' tight end is joining Johnson among the most efficient receivers in the NFL.

And, Daniels says he's not even trying to be a receiver.

"I'm trying to be a complete tight end," Daniels said. "I feel like a tight end. I like it out there catching passes, but I missed one play today. I was tired. I'm in there blocking all the time and receivers don't have to do that."

Daniels, a fourth round pick in 2006 out of Wisconsin, has a point. He improved enough as a blocker to be a full-time starter. Now, he's also a scary receiving threat to opponents whether he's trying to be a receiver or not.

The Texans took a 21-0 halftime lead and then had just enough resistance to hold off the San Francisco 49ers' second half charge Sunday for a 24-21 victory. Daniels was key in salvaging the Texans' third victory in four weeks.

{QUOTE}"He was our offensive player of the week last week and he's got a good shot at it this week," coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's just a big-time player. He plays well on the line of scrimmage. He's turning into a complete tight end. On a day when it was hard to get Andre going because of what they were doing, that's when O.D. made his plays. That's what has to happen."

Daniels was the Texans' leading receiver with seven catches for 123 yards and 42-yard touchdown catch from Matt Schaub late in the second quarter. He now has five touchdown catches, tying his career season best in his rookie year of 2006.

"He's tremendously reliable," Schaub said. "I have complete confidence if I give him a chance he'll make a play on the football. It's a tough task for players to cover him one-on-one whether it's a linebacker or safety. He creates mismatches in our favor."

Daniels was Houston's second leading receiver last year with 70 catches for 862 yards. Opponents can't just double team Johnson and think they've stopped the Texans' passing game. They must contend with Daniels and wide receiver Kevin Walter.

"I'm lucky, first of all, to be working in this offense," Daniels said. "We run a lot of stuff to get me open. A lot of times, it's watching film to see what's going to be open on the field."

Johnson and Daniels are helping each other by being on the field at the same time.

"Andre is the best receiver in the league, in my opinion, and he's got to get a lot of attention," Daniels said. "We need other guys to step up and make plays to get open and take pressure off him. So we're going to get Andre the ball a lot, but with the coverages teams play, that can take him away. We have to get open."

Even with Johnson sidelined in the fourth quarter, Daniels still got open. He snagged a third down catch for eight yards and another catch for 15 yards in a drive that led to the deciding points in the game. Kris Brown kicked a 50-yard field goal that kept the 49ers' rally short of a comeback victory.

"Something we worked hard in the offseason was working the middle of the field," Schaub said. "When he's working the linebackers and safeties, he's finding the holes in the defenses and I'm just trying to get him the ball where he can make plays. He's doing a heck of a job."

The Texans have moved into the elite group of NFL passing teams despite a struggling rushing attack.

"We're obviously a pass-first team," Daniels said. "We started today throwing the ball. We'd like to run the ball better than we have, but we're still running it. People have to pay attention to what we're doing. Our play action is still working. We're committed to the run, but we now think pass first."

Daniels has progressed enough to play in the most recent Pro Bowl, where he chatted with fellow tight end Tony Gonzalez. He also has had a more impressive career to date than 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, despite Davis' three touchdown receptions against the Texans on Sunday.

Davis was a first-round pick in 2006 while Daniels was picked in the fourth round. Still, Daniels is the one who made it to the Pro Bowl. He's on his way to becoming the top tight end in the NFL.

"You can't take it away from Tony Gonzalez being the best," Daniels said. "I got a chance to play with him in the Pro Bowl. He's such a hard worker even though he's been doing it for so long he's been good for so long and has tremendous range. He catches the ball everywhere. And he's a pretty darn good blocker, too.

"I took what I could from him when I was out there, and I'm applying it this year, too."

The Texans have played well since a big comeback in a losing effort at Arizona.

"We've been playing really well since then," Daniels said. "We couldn't get much going in the first half then, but since then eight of 10 quarters we've played pretty well. We struggled a little in fourth quarter against Cincy and today."

Still, winning heals many wounds.

"When you win a game, your confidence builds easily," Daniels said. "We've got more work to do, but we're definitely more confident each week after a win."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky., Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro teams.

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