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Houston Texans

'Dre finds his way


Andre Johnson is wide open as he hauls in a 73-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of the Texans 23-10 win over the Saints.

From the looks of his first reception on Sunday, wide receiver Andre Johnson is back to normal.

Johnson hauled in a 73-yard touchdown pass during the Texans' second possession of the game, giving the Texans their first points of the game and providing an immediate emotional lift to a team missing its star receiver to a knee injury for the past seven games.

"You could feel it in the stadium when Andre Johnson is on the field," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's the heart and soul of this franchise, not just this team. That's what he means to everybody—to you guys, to me, to the locker room. We all know that."

That first quarter touchdown came off of an excellent play action fake by quarterback Matt Schaub. Saints cornerback Jason David bit on the play fake and hesitated, allowing Johnson to get behind the New Orleans secondary on a skinny post. Nearly 10 yards behind the nearest defender, Johnson caught Schaub's pass at about the 25-yard line and easily strode into the end zone for the score. It was the same play Johnson scored a 77-yard touchdown on in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"They were in quarters coverage, and both the safety and cornerback bit on the run fake," Johnson said. "When I saw the safety run down, I knew it was a touchdown."

{QUOTE}After the game, Schaub attributed part of the success on that play to a defensive alignment that the Texans' offensive coaches were able to exploit.

"We had noticed a certain formation where they were running the same coverage on defense, and we figured that if we were going to make the play, we had to make it right then," Schaub said. "So we called the same formation and the same run fake we played before we had run the ball. Then we called the play action pass, we got the safety tied up, and Andre was able to get open down the field."

But for Johnson—who would haul in five more receptions to give him six total catches for 120 yards in the game—getting back on the field for the first time since Houston's 34-21 victory over Carolina in Week 2 was a thrill in itself.

"It was fun when I ran out of the tunnel, and to hear the fans cheering for me," Johnson said. "During warmups, all the guys were coming up to me, shaking hands, giving me hugs and telling me welcome back. During the week, I didn't really feel it, but today there was so much emotion. I was just excited and ready to get back out there and play."

In an attempt to minimize Johnson's exposure to injury in his first game back, Kubiak and his coaching staff attempted to limit Johnson's snaps, but his impact on the field was still significant. Johnson has totaled 100-yard receiving games in all three of his starts this season.

"It was important and very hard for us as coaches to not only have him, but to make sure we only played him for about 35 to 40 plays." Kubiak said. "It would have been easy to play him the whole game, (but) I think we accomplished that."

With an impressive performance, Johnson assuaged any fears that he would have trouble recovering from his knee injury. And for a Texans' team that went 2-5 over the seven-game stretch that Johnson was injured, simply having back their top weapon provides them with an added offensive dimension as they enter the home stretch of the season.

"He lifts the level of play and explosiveness of our offense," Schaub said. "The guys that have been playing for him the past few weeks have made a lot of big plays, but he does bring a different level of excitement to this football team."

Johnson said that he planned to begin keeping his touchdown balls as keepsakes after noticing other players around the league doing the same. If today's performance is any indication, Johnson should clear plenty of space on his mantle.

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