Saturday's matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals will be the first playoff start of quarterback Matt Schaub's career. After suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 10 last year, Schaub was relegated to injured reserve and spent the remainder of the season on the Texans' sidelines.
Watching his team play in the Wild Card and Divisional Playoff rounds without him was a key motivator for Schaub all offseason and throughout the year to lead the Texans back to postseason play for the second consecutive time. Now, it's win or go home, and Schaub is ready.
"It's an exciting time of year to be a part of this to get ready to play in a playoff game, especially here at home in front of our home fans," Schaub said on Tuesday. "I'm definitely looking forward to it, but the thing that's going to help us win the game is the same whenever you're playing, wherever you're playing. That's playing smart, clean, good football."
It's not breaking news that Matt Schaub did not exactly look like Matt Schaub throughout the month of December. The two-time Pro Bowler led the Texans' offense to only two touchdown drives in the final three games of the regular season and threw one touchdown with three interceptions over the final four games.
But that was in 2012. It's a new year and a new season, and Schuab is confident in the offense's ability to turn things around in the postseason.
"What's in the past, you can't change," he said. "We've got to move forward. We've got to approach this thing, it's a whole new slate. We're in the playoffs and you win and you keep going. We've just got to take each week and figure out what it's going to take to be successful against the team we're playing and move forward. You've got to put everything behind you, what's done is done, and move forward."
Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison believes that the offense's recent lack of production stems from mistakes made by the Texans as a whole, not just one particular player.
"We've missed some things, and everybody on the team could be better, coaches included," Dennison said. "We're back at it and we're grinding and we know that it's a great opportunity that we have. We're looking at this as a chance. We're one of six teams in the AFC that get a chance to play. We're wiping the slate clean and going after it. We know what we did right, what we did wrong and hoping to capitalize in the things that we do right."
Head coach Gary Kubiak echoed Dennison's sentiments, saying that the team needs to refocus and support Schaub if they want a chance at extending the season into February.
"Matt's team has to play good for Matt to win," Kubiak said. "This is a team game, and that's what we're focused on right now, playing better as a football team. But Matt has his job to do, too. I just want him to be himself. I've always been proud of how he prepares, how he gets ready to play games, how he goes about his job, and I just want him to do it again this week."
Despite the disappointing finish to 2012, Schaub and the Texans have had a historic season, going a franchise-best 12-4 and earning their second consecutive AFC South title. Schaub threw for 4,008 yards and 22 touchdowns with a passer rating of 90.7, which ranked fourth in the AFC and ninth in the NFL.
"The offense is built around his abilities and so forth, which are special abilities," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said this week. "You have the great running game built around (Arian) Foster, but you have to sell it, the play actions, the screens, the nakeds, the boots and everything that comes off the runs and the ability to make the vertical throws, whether the deep balls to (Andre) Johnson or the stutter and double moves that Kevin Walter and the receivers run so well there."
Schaub has been outstanding within the confines of Reliant Stadium, going 26-13 since joining the Texans in 2007, including 10-3 since 2011. He's confident that he can do what's necessary to turn his recent performance around and get the Texans headed back in the right direction.
"I've just got to play a little more consistent," Schaub said. "I definitely know when things aren't going well to look at myself first, because I'm the one that's putting everyone in position and trying to make the plays. I've got to play better. Our whole team, everyone across the board has got to pick their game up especially this time of year, but I definitely do."