For playoff push, Texans need December to remember

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At 5-6 after three consecutive losses, the Texans need a strong finish to earn their first winning record and first playoff appearance. Recent history offers encouragement.

December has been the Texans' best month under head coach Gary Kubiak, with the Texans winning 10 of 15 games since Kubiak took over in 2006. That .667 December winning percentage is the sixth-highest in the league over the last three years – behind the Chargers, Patriots, Eagles, Colts and Titans, and ahead of teams including the Steelers, Ravens and Packers.

"I think Kubs is really fair with us as far as what he asks us to do during practice, the hitting," tackle Eric Winston said when asked to explain the Texans' December success. "I think the weight room guys have a big part of that, the way we lift. Down the stretch, I think we really benefit. When teams are getting worn down and tired and hurt, we're maintaining, we're keeping it even, and I think that helps."

The Texans finished the 2008 season with a 4-1 December, a stretch that included victories at Green Bay and at home against Jacksonville, Tennessee and Chicago. That pushed the Texans' record from 4-7 to 8-8.

A 5-0 finish this season might be necessary for the Texans to reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

"If we lose one, it's going to be tough," wide receiver Kevin Walter said. "But we have the confidence. If we play together as a team like we know we can, like we have in the past, we can win every game that we're in."

The quest starts with a trip to Jacksonville this week. The Texans, despite their recent skid, are only a game behind the 6-5 Jaguars for the second AFC Wild Card spot in a tightly-packed playoff race.

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are also 6-5. The Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Texans are 5-6. The Denver Broncos, who currently lead the AFC Wild Card standings, aren't far ahead at 7-4.

"It sounds crazy, but even though you look at our record, there's still a chance for us to accomplish our goal," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "I may say that to someone outside this locker room and they may laugh about it, but there is a chance and everyone knows that and everyone is very positive about it.

{QUOTE}"The only way we're going to accomplish that is by winning, and that starts on Sunday. Hopefully, we go get a win."

The Texans lost to the Jaguars 31-24 in Week 3 at Reliant Stadium. Quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns, but the Texans saw a chance to send the game to overtime slip away when running back Chris Brown fumbled into the end zone with two minutes left to play.

That was the first of five Texans losses by eight points or less this season. They lost to Arizona by seven in Week 5 with a late drive that ended at the one-yard line. They lost by three in Weeks 9 and 11 on missed last-second field goals. They lost by eight to the Colts last Sunday in a game they led 17-0 in the second quarter. Games like those have earned the Texans a reputation for not being able to finish.

But the same team that lost those games also won a 34-31 shootout at Tennessee in Week 2. That same team made a late defensive stand to hold off the AFC North-leading Bengals 28-17 in Week 6, and it fended off a furious second-half rally by the 49ers in Week 7 to win 24-21 at Reliant Stadium.

Schaub, roundly criticized after committing three turnovers in the second half against Indy last week, has shown that he can finish, too. He orchestrated a game-winning drive earlier this season at Tennessee. He brought the Texans within one play of tying the game in four of the team's six losses. In three seasons in Houston, Schaub has led four fourth-quarter game-winning drives.

Schaub's past performance indicates that he has the tools to perform well late down the stretch of a tight game, and hopefully down the stretch of a season. Texans players feel the same way about their team.

"We've done it a lot," Winston said of finishing games. "We've made the drives (this year) and we've done the things we needed to do, but we've got to finish. Hopefully, we do the same things that we did last year and have a great December."

Follow Nick Scurfield on Twitter at *twitter.com/NickScurfield or find him on the "I'm A Texan Club" at imatexan.com/profiles/Nick_Scurf/*.

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