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Johnson primed for Ravens


Funny how things work out.

The last time the Texans played the Baltimore Ravens, wide receiver Andre Johnson was hobbled with a hamstring injury and rookie quarterback T.J. Yates was a third-string quarterback.

Just look at them now. Johnson is back in the lineup and Yates has rocketed from an after-thought fifth0round draftee to the starting quarterback for Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff against the Ravens.

"T.J. was the guy who was throwing me the ball when I was out injured," Johnson said. "Maybe it was something that worked out. I didn't know that I'd be playing with him this season. It's worked out that way. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise."

The Texans hope the blessing will pay off Sunday in Baltimore.

Without Johnson as a downfield threat, the Ravens held Arian Foster to 49 yards on 15 carries and the Texans to 93 total rushing yards on Oct. 16 when they beat Houston 29-14.

"I know it will change things," Foster said of Johnson being in the lineup this time around. "They have to respect him or else he'll do what he does best. He's one of the greatest to ever play the game."

On Sunday, the Ravens will get the Texan's best double-barreled shot.

"He's one of the greatest guys doing it, if not the greatest," left tackle Duane Brown said. "Just his presence out there makes the defense change. The fact that he's starting to get healthy and get back in the groove definitely gives us more confidence out there just like he did last week.

"They can't stack eight or nine in the box. They have some pretty good DBs, but I don't think they want to put anyone out there one-on-one with him."  

No one is happier to be back in the lineup that Johnson, who suffered through eight disappointing seasons with the young Texans franchise. After missing nine games this season, he caught his first playoff touchdown just a few days ago.

"When I look back on it, of course I'd like to have played this season, but I'm happy that I'm healthy now," Johnson said. "I have no regrets about what happened as far as injuries. I'm in a great situation. We have a great opportunity as a team. It's a great platform. You have a chance to go out and show what type of team you are and what type of player you are."

Johnson had a couple of impressive streaks broken by his two hamstring injuries. His string of consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons ended at three. He also was the first player in NFL history to catch at least 60 passes in each of his first eight seasons.

He still caught 33 passes for 492 yards and two touchdowns this season. His highlight so far was his 40-yard touchdown catch in Saturday's 31-10 victory over the Bengals.

"Getting him back has been huge for our team," coach Gary Kubiak said. "Just his presence with the team the other day was a big deal."

The Ravens know what they must do.

"That's the objective, first and foremost, is to stop the run," Ravens defensive end Corey Redding said. "You can't let him (Foster) get going. And then No. 2, get guys, get eyes on No. 80 (Johnson). Guys on the back end really control not letting the ball get over our heads."

Johnson had five catches for 90 yards against the Bengals on Saturday in the Texans' first-ever playoff game.

"No doubt about it, you could see the impact he had last week," wide receiver Kevin Walter said. "The guy's a special player. He's back, he's feeling good, he's feeling healthy, and that's going to help us big-time as a team. We do a good job of moving him around, so it's hard for defenses to really key on him."

Johnson got in 40-plus plays against the Bengals, and he's looking for more against the Ravens.

"Sometimes, I feel I've got some of the explosiveness back, and sometimes, I don't," Johnson said. "It will come back over time. I haven't been feeling anything as far as my hamstring. That's a good thing. Hopefully, everything will continue going that way."

The Ravens will present a major task for the Texans. They finished third in the league in fewest points permitted for the fourth straight year. They tied the NFL record for consecutive seasons of being in the top three in points allowed and were first in the NFL in red-zone defense.

"Since I was a kid, they've had a great defense," Johnson said. "They probably have two players (linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed) who are arguably the best to ever play the game at their positions. When you look at how they fly around, it's definitely going to be a challenge for us. You want to be the best, you've got to beat the best."

Yates is delighted to have Johnson in the huddle.

"He changes the way we roll on offense," Yates said. "He adds a different element to our game. It opens other aspects of our game with the running game. Defenses play us different when he's on the field. Having him back is going to be huge for us going forward.

"Being able to throw to that guy on a daily basis gives you more confidence, knowing that if you have a ball not on point as much as you want, he's going to go get it no matter what. He's one of those guys if there's a 50-50 ball, he'll get it for you."

Johnson thinks getting the ball downfield is very important against the Ravens.

"You definitely want to show that you can throw the ball downfield," Johnson said. "Typically, when you don't throw the ball down the field, the DBs will sit on your routes. I think that's something you want to show the teams."

Johnson has respect for the Ravens defense.

"The way they fly around, when you think of the Ravens, the only thing you think about is defense," Johnson said.

Johnson expects to do some flying of his own on Sunday.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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