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'Dre chasing records, playoffs


Andre Johnson played his first professional game in Miami against his childhood heroes, the Dolphins, in 2003. He caught six passes for 76 yards and helped the Texans win.

It would be quite an understatement to say a lot has happened since then.

Then, Johnson was a rookie with tremendous upside. Now, he's a veteran All-Pro, considered by many as the best wide receiver in the game. Some things haven't changed. The individual stats are nice, but Johnson's focus is as it's always been: win.

"I wasn't nervous, it was more like I finally made it," Johnson said of his pro debut. "I grew up right around the stadium and I always had dreams of playing in the stadium and for me to play my first professional game there was big. That's pretty much the memories I have of it. We won."

{QUOTE}Johnson and the Texans return to Miami on Sunday to play possibly the most meaningful game in Texans history against the Dolphins, both with 7-7 records and each clawing for a spot in the playoffs.

Johnson knew his return on Sunday would be another big day for his family and friends. So, before the season even started, he personally purchased tickets for the game.

"It's a lot of fun," Johnson said. "I've been getting phone calls all week about getting tickets and all. I probably have like 125 family members and friends, coaches, and stuff like that. Everybody is excited about me coming home to play.

"It's everybody's Christmas present."

Johnson is returning home with amazing statistical possibilities. He leads the NFL in receiving yards with 1,433. That's 415 yards shy of Jerry Rice's single-season record 1,848 yards, meaning Johnson needs to average 207.5 yards in his final two games to tie Rice.

Such a goal would hardly be worth mentioning for most receivers. Obviously, Johnson isn't most receivers. Quarterback Matt Schaub doesn't doubt it's possible for his favorite target to add to his legend.

"You look at what he's done the past two weeks," Schaub said. "That's not totally out of the question for him to average that many yards, but again, it's whatever it takes to win. I guarantee if you asked him, if he'd take two catches for 10 yards and we win, he'd emphatically say yes."

Since 2006, Johnson has been the most productive receiver in the NFL, averaging 91.0 yards per game.

"I've been around him three years now and it's impressive but it doesn't amaze me because I see him do it all the time," Schaub said.

In the past two weeks, Johnson has been on a real tear. He had 11 catches for 193 years against Seattle and nine catches for 196 last week against St. Louis. It's part of a pledge Johnson made to himself a few weeks back to play the best five games of his career to close out the season.

Is he measuring up to his own benchmark?

"We've been winning so I think I've been doing enough for the team to win," Johnson said. "Hopefully, I can keep doing what I'm doing and do it enough that we can get a victory on Sunday. The big thing about this league is consistency, so I have to come out and do that."

The statistical possibilities are just window-dressing.

"When you are playing, you don't think about stats," Johnson said. "You don't hear them until you come off the field. I'm just out there playing trying to do everything I can to help the team. But it's a great accomplishment to have played that way the last two weeks."

Johnson recalls his pro debut in Miami fondly. This time, it's more about business.

"I was more into that when I was a rookie because that was my first professional game, going home to play," Johnson said. "It will be fun, exciting. I'm pretty sure they'll (Dolphins) be pumped. We have the same record and we're battling for the same spot. It will be like our playoff game.

"This is the biggest game we've had since I've been here. If you keep winning, every game is going to get bigger and bigger. This is the biggest one now.

"I won't get carried away. When you get too carried away, it affects how you play. I approach it like I approach any other game. But I know what's at stake. That's what I have on my mind."

The Texans started the season with high expectations of making the playoffs. A four-game losing streak has put them in must-win situations and they need plenty of help to make it to postseason. It's not a time to be discussing individual honors for Johnson.

"It's great to accomplish that stuff but when you're not winning and playing in playoffs, it doesn't feel the same," Johnson said. "If we were in a different situation than we are now, it would feel a lot better."

Still, Johnson has achieved glowing numbers in his first 100 pro games.

  • He's caught passes in 99 of 100 games.
  • Johnson has 13 career games with 10 or more catches and 100 or more yards. That's third all time behind Rice and Marvin Harrison.
  • Johnson has 576 career catches, second behind Harrison for most catches in his first 100 games.
  • If Johnson leads the NFL in receiving yards this season, he will join Rice as the only receivers in NFL history to lead the league in consecutive seasons.

Although reluctant to talk about personal goals, Johnson's path to the Hall of Fame is on a fast track. And, it's something he wants when his career is over.

"I always had a goal of trying to be the best," he said. "When I finished football, I wanted people to say Andre Johnson was the best wide receiver to ever play.

"So I think at this point, I've worked my way to people having an opinion that I'm the best in the league. I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing so that when I hang my cleats up they can say I was the best to ever play."

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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