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Five things to watch for - Texans at Colts


Here are five key players, matchups and things to watch for as the Texans (7-7) travel to the RCA Dome to take on the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts (12-2).

1. Chasing eight:The Texans' 7-7 record is already the best in franchise history through 14 games. With a win against the Colts, they have a chance to tread deeper into uncharted territory by getting eight victories in a season for the first time.

"We're searching for that eighth win," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "We've talked about that. Our football team feels good about the way we're playing, and it would mean a tremendous amount to our football team to go there and find a way to get this game."

Though out of the playoff picture, a road win over the defending Super Bowl champs would provide the Texans a huge boost of confidence heading into next season.

And after being decimated by injuries worse than any other club in the league this season, finishing the season 8-8 or 9-7 would be a clear sign of progress for a team in its second year under Kubiak.

"For me, it'd be extremely exciting," said guard Chester Pitts, who has started all 94 games in franchise history. "I've never won eight games, so all the hard work, you feel like it's paying off. It's just something we're really focused on and we're willing to do whatever it takes to find a way to get that done."

The Texans have never finished a season better than 7-9. That mark came in 2004, when Houston went into the season finale against Cleveland at 7-8 but lost to end the year below .500.

2. Winning in Indy:If the Texans are to get that elusive eighth win this week, they'll have do something else this team has never done: win at Indianapolis.

"(It's) very important," two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "We're in a position we've never been in before. We're trying to take steps to getting to where we want to be in the future, and one of those steps would be winning the game in Indy for the first time, so we're going to go out and try to do that.

"This is a place we have to learn how to win at. We've won games in Tennessee. We've won games in Jacksonville. We've never won in Indy. So this'll be a big test for us."

The Colts are 5-1 at home this season, their only loss coming by four points at the hands of the undefeated New England Patriots. Kubiak calls the RCA Dome the loudest stadium he's seen in his NFL career.

"It's our division; for us to get to where we want to go some day, we're going to have to figure out how to go in there and win, so I just want to see us go in there and play with poise like we've been playing the last couple weeks," Kubiak said. "But it is a monumental challenge. We'll have to play as good as we can play."

3. Williams watch:Defensive end Mario Williams was overlooked by Pro Bowl voters this week, even though he leads the AFC and is second in the NFL with a Texans-record 13 sacks.

Williams has nine sacks in the last five games, and was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season after compiling seven tackles and 3.5 sacks against Denver in Week 15.

Yet when Tuesday's Pro Bowl announcement showed Williams as a second alternate on the AFC roster, the 6-7, 291-pound defensive end downplayed the news, insisting that he's more focused on playing well to help the team win.

His head coach thinks he'll be playing with a chip on his shoulder.

"He's in a situation where we've gotten something that's taken place in his career here in the last 24 hours that gives him a chance to find a new hunger and make him an even better player," Kubiak said on Wednesday, the day after Pro Bowl rosters were announced. "And I think you'll see him do that."

If Williams plays anywhere near the level he's been at the last few weeks, Colts coach Tony Dungy might want to think twice about his plan to possibly play quarterback Peyton Manning for the entire game.

Last year's NFL MVP will be on high alert for the Texans' young playmaker.

"I think he's an excellent player," Manning said. "He's really playing at a high level – really kind of took over the Broncos game himself in a lot of ways and put a lot of pressure on their passing game. And I think he's had a heck of a year, I really do.

"In the film that we've seen of him, he is what we call a disruptive guy, and he's certainly a guy that I think you'll be paying attention to on every single play."

If Williams brings down Manning for the first time, he will extend his franchise record for sacks in consecutive games to six.

4. Four, the magic number:Quarterback Sage Rosenfels is going for win number four in as many games as a Texans starter this season. Rosenfels, 3-0 in 2007, is the first quarterback in franchise history to win his first three starts.

He has been at his best in the fourth quarter. Rosenfels is tops in the NFL with a fourth-quarter quarterback rating of 124.8 and tied for the league lead with 10 fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Another clutch performance will be critical to a Texans victory on Sunday.

"He's done a tremendous job," Kubiak said. "The games that he stepped up and played well for us to win have been exceptional. He's a fine pro; he's done a lot for himself and his career in these three games, and I would expect him to do even more."

Rosenfels ranks seventh in the league with 65.1 percent completion rate, just behind injured teammate Matt Schaub (fifth, 66.4), who Kubiak hopes will be the team's third quarterback behind Shane Boyd on Sunday.

5. In the starting lineup:Texans rookie running back Darius Walker will make his second consecutive start on Sunday. Ron Dayne, who has started seven games this season, continues to battle an ankle injury but should play against the Colts, the team he torched for 153 rushing yards and two touchdowns last December at Reliant Stadium.

The two backs combined for 133 rushing yards against Denver. Walker has 149 total yards in his first two NFL games, and Dayne, with 85 more rushing yards, will match his career single-season high of 770 that he set as a rookie in 2000 with the New York Giants.

While the identity of the Texans' starting running back had been up in the air until Kubiak's announcement on Friday, the Colts' entire starting lineup has been a question mark all week.

Several injured Colts, including All-Pro wide receiver Marvin Harrison, will sit out as they continue to recover for a postseason run. But Colts head coach Tony Dungy said he will by no means employ a "wholesale substitution" strategy this week even with his team locked into the number two seed in the AFC.

Dungy plans to sub in players at different points of the game, but said that many, including Manning, may play all four quarters depending on how quickly they can establish a rhythm.

Manning said he looks forward to playing as much as he can in order to get young players like standout rookie receiver Anthony Gonzalez and backup running back Kenton Keith in sync with the offense before the start of the playoffs.

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