Quarterback Sage Rosenfels has filled in admirably for Matt Schaub when called upon this season.
Here are five key players, matchups and things to watch for as the Texans travel to San Diego to face the 3-3 Chargers.
1. Business as usual:Now that the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared, the Texans find themselves exactly where they thought they'd be.
The wildfires around San Diego caused a week of wild speculation that the Texans-Chargers game would be moved to one of at least five different cities. On Friday afternoon, the league finally decided to have the game played as scheduled in San Diego on Sunday at 3:05 p.m. CST.
"I don't think anybody got their eye off of playing in San Diego," tackle Eric Winston said. "But at the same time, it's kind of funny that we've gone through all of this and we're finally back to where we're supposed to be."
Rumors had the game being relocated to Phoenix, where the Chargers have been practicing all week, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas and Houston at Reliant Stadium. Although the week of chaotic uncertainty was unlike anything most of the Texans had ever seen, it has not affected their preparation for the game.
"Frankly," defensive tackle Amobi Okoye said, "Monday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday – it doesn't matter to me. I just want to go back out there and get on the field and get a 'W.' I'm not used to losing."
The Chargers, meanwhile, have the benefit of coming off their bye week to compensate for a shortened and anxiety-filled week. Although many players and staff had to evacuate their homes, none have been reported destroyed. The Bolts seem intent on giving their community something to cheer about for a few hours to take their minds off the devastation.
2. The air up there: A major obstacle to having the game in San Diego was the questionable air quality surrounding Qualcomm Stadium. Though the fires have died down considerably and the NFL feels the air is safe, Winston was a little worried with the possibility of harmful or polluted air in the back of his mind.
"You've got to think what you've heard, all the cars are covered in soot and stuff like that," he said. "You don't want to have to go out there and have a coal miner's lungs after the game from bringing it all in, so you want to feel like you're out there and your quality of health won't be diminished down the road because of the air you're breathing."
Tight end Owen Daniels was less apprehensive, but the aspiring weatherman explained the danger if the forecast should change.
"For a few hours, I don't think that'll be too big of a deal," he said of breathing the air during the game. "From what I hear, as of right now, it's nice out there. They just don't want the winds to shift and blow the smoke from where the fires are at right now over to where the stadium is."
That scenario could be of concern for players on both sides, especially those such as Texans guard Chester Pitts, who has asthma.
3. QB toss-up: After the Texans' final practice of the week on Friday, head coach Gary Kubiak said that quarterback Matt Schaub will be active on Sunday but a game-time decision as far as playing status.
The 26-year-old Schaub has thrown for 1,581 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions with a 90.5 passer rating this season. His swift decision-making skills and leadership will be missed if he cannot play, but backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels has proven more than adequate at taking the reigns if needed.
"They're not interchangeable, but in a sense they are because everything operates the same," Winston said. "The playbook doesn't shrink; we don't change the playbook for one guy or the other. They're really a lot alike. They have a lot of the same leadership qualities, and they operate the same way."
Rosenfels went 11-of-12 for 82 yards and a touchdown in mop-up duty in Week 6. He struggled initially with four turnovers in Week 7 after replacing the injured Schaub, but finished with a fourth quarter of historic proportions and set career highs with 290 yards and four touchdowns in the game.
Either quarterback has the confidence of his teammates.
"We feel fine as a unit," wide receiver André Davis, who has caught long touchdown passes from both Schaub and Rosenfels this season, said. "Sage is going to be ready to go if Matt can't, and if Matt can go, he's going to be ready to go. I think most of us have been around both of these guys long enough to know that they both can play and whoever we have in there is who we're going to go to war with."
4. Shaun & Shawne: Whichever quarterback gets the nod, they'll have to avoid the Chargers' menacing pass-rushing tandem of Pro Bowl outside linebackers Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman, who have combined for 12 sacks on the year.
"They're two edge players that present big-time problems for your offense," Kubiak said. "You've got to try every possible avenue you can to protect; everybody's had that problem against them. We're no different. We're working and trying to find the best way for us to get back there and throw the ball."
If Schaub plays, protecting him will be Kubiak's primary concern after the quarterback got beat up last week and had to leave the game with multiple injuries. Establishing the run will be a key to slowing down the Chargers' aggressiveness on defense and giving either quarterback time in the pocket.
"We've seen some pretty good pass rushes the past few weeks," Schaub said. "The teams that we face in our division, the guys last week (on Tennessee), the guys up in Indianapolis – we face some pretty good rushers, so we know what's ahead for us."
5. Fast as lightning: Reigning NFL MVP running back LaDainian Tomlinson got off to a slow start this season before exploding for 198 yards rushing and four touchdowns against Oakland two weeks ago. His jaw-dropping ability to make plays as both a runner and a receiver has been lauded by Texans defenders all week.
He's so highly regarded by his opponents that Texans safety Von Hutchins readily admitted that he often picks Tomlinson to be his running back in the Madden video game.
"He works the same on the game as he does in person," Hutchins said. "It's hard to tackle him on the game; it's going to be hard to tackle him on Sunday.
"He has excellent footwork, he has excellent vision and his ability to cut and change direction is outstanding. He's a great player."
LT and electric backup Michael Turner will be running right at a Texans defense that was stout against the run from the preseason though the first two regular season games but has struggled since.
"I think it's just assignment mistakes," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "I think we're definitely not a bad rush defense. It's just a couple mental errors here and there and guys are scooting out on us for a few extra yards. I think it's a matter of guys just focusing in on their job and taking care of it."
Injury report: For the Texans' official injury report, click here.