Here are five key players, matchups and things to watch for as the Texans travel to Oakland to face the 2-5 Raiders.
1. Sage to start: With Matt Schaub out with a concussion, quarterback Sage Rosenfels will make the third start of his professional career and first ever for the Texans. The former Iowa State Cyclone started two games for the Miami Dolphins, one apiece in both the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
Rosenfels has played well in difficult situations this season, already setting career highs with 50 completions for 546 yards and six touchdowns. But facing a big deficit each time he has entered a game this season, Rosenfels has also thrown a career-high six interceptions – he had thrown only seven career picks before this season.
"I've generally been very good with the football in my career," Rosenfels said. "Obviously this past week, we're down as much as we were, I was trying to be very aggressive with the ball. I have to get back in that frame of mind of being smart with the football and taking what the defense gives me."
While he has never had an opportunity to be a starter in his career, Rosenfels remains confident that his hard work will one day translate into such an opportunity. Head coach Gary Kubiak has repeatedly said that this a pivotal game not just for the Texans, but for Rosenfels' career.
The only thing on Rosenfels' mind, however, is attacking the Raiders' defense and reading their coverages – not how outside observers will be dissecting his every move.
"That'd drive you nuts," he said. "It'll drive you nuts if you're worried about every throw. You've just got to let the ball go and make things happen and execute."
2. Running attack back? Kubiak reported on Friday that Ahman Green has been practicing well and is ready to go. Ron Dayne is at full strength and played well last season at Oakland, gaining 95 yards on 18 carries in the Texans' victory. And Adimchinobi Echemandu, facing his former team, is coming off a career game at San Diego where he averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
While the Texans are 30th in the NFL in rushing offense with 80.5 yards per game, the Raiders also rank 30th in rushing yards allowed with 148.9 yards per game. If there were ever a time for the Texans to grab hold of momentum in the running game, this is it.
"I guess they can fix what ails them and we can try to fix what ails us," Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp said via conference call on Wednesday. "So, two people fighting against their weaknesses of their ball club right now. I'm sure they'd like to get their running game going, and we'd like to shut their running game down and keep it where it is, but that's going to be the challenge Sunday."
The Texans had 115 yards rushing last week against the vaunted Chargers' defense, their highest total since Week 2 at Carolina.
3. McCown replaces Culpepper:Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin announced on Thursday that quarterback Josh McCown will start over Daunte Culpepper this week. McCown started the first three games of the season, going 44-of-68 for 494 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions with a quarterback rating of 75.2.
He left the Raiders' Week 3 game against Cleveland with a broken right big toe and has not played since, but now feels nearly 100 percent healthy, according to a report on the Oakland Tribune's website.
"I feel like I can play my game and do what I do," McCown said on the site. "The best thing is I know I don't think about it while I'm out there so it doesn't factor in to anything."
Culpepper had been at the helm for both the Raiders' wins this season. He entered the Browns game after halftime and led the Raiders to their first victory, then started and won the following game against Miami. Since then, however, he had struggled in the Raiders' three consecutive losses that dropped them to 2-5.
"I felt Daunte played really well for us, but with Josh coming back and looking healthy again, we're going to go back to Josh," Kiffin said.
Culpepper will serve as McCown's backup, while 2007 number one overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell will be the number three quarterback.
4. Continued dominance? The Texans are 2-0 all-time against Oakland, making the Raiders one of two teams Houston has never lost to. The Texans defense has been the driving force behind the two victories, forcing five turnovers in both games in the all-time series.
In last year's game in Week 13, the Texans won 23-14 at McAfee Coliseum. Kris Brown led the way with three field goals and DeMarcus Faggins returned a first-quarter fumble 58 yards for a touchdown.
DeMeco Ryans was the star of the day, helping himself lock up Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with 15 tackles, one sack, three passes defensed, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an interception in the end zone on the Raiders' last drive of the game.
But that was last year. Beleaguered Raiders quarterback Aaron Brooks is gone, and Kiffin's arrival as head coach has instilled a whole new attitude in the Silver & Black.
"We're not looking at last year," Ryans said. "We're just focusing on our self of cleaning up our ball because we haven't been getting the turnovers this year, and it's definitely a glaring statistic. When we won the turnover battle, we won the game. We haven't done that these past couple of weeks."
5. Must-win mentality: With a win, the Texans would be 4-5, which would match their best start in franchise history through nine games set in 2004. With the bye week ahead, they would have two weeks for injured players to recover in time for the team to attempt to move to .500 at home against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 18.
The alternative is coming home 3-6 with a four-game losing streak and deflated spirits. The only option is to win.
"We need a win in the biggest way," defensive end N.D. Kalu said. "You talk about back against the wall, we're really feeling it because we've still got belief that we could do some good things this year…We need to stop the bleeding right now.
"We just hit a down time, and now it's time to get back up again."
"You definitely don't want to go into a bye week with a bad taste in your mouth," he said. "You want to go in with a win, come back and just get that feeling of winning back in. We haven't won a game since Miami, so it's definitely like a must-win game for us. We definitely have to win this game."