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Notes and Quotes: Ending 2021 with big wins and big awards

Every other day, Justin McCray, who is an offensive lineman and a guard, he just walks up to me and goes, ‘Coach, I got you. I can return the ball.’ It happens on a daily basis. Special Teams Coordinator Frank Ross

The Houston Texans closed out the 2021 year with two consecutive wins, including a 41-29 win against the Los Angeles Chargers where a number of starters were out due to COVID-19, several players earning awards and honors. This week, the team travels to San Francisco for the final road game of the season, and a number of players returned to the practice field.

Here are the top stories and quotes from the week:

The NFL shortened its quarantine period from 10 to five days following the revised Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) guidelines, and over a dozen players were activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list as a result.

The Houston Texans activated 13 players off their Reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, including WR Brandin Cooks, DL Jonathan Greenard and K Ka'imi Fairbairn among others.

Cooks returns after a one-game absence and is just 55 yards shy of a second-consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season.

"Any time you're able to get a player like Brandin back, it does wonders for you as a coaching staff, and the ability to kind of implement him into the game plan has been great," Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly said. "With that being said, I think those other guys did a great job last week coming out and showing they're fully capable of handling the workload, too."

This week, Cooks was named one of eight finalists in the NFL for the 2021 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.

Sunday's game against the 49ers will mark the tenth start of Mills' career. After playing a Chargers' team without Joey Bosa, Mills will face his brother Nick Bosa on the San Francisco defense this week. Bosa currently leads the NFL with 19 tackles for loss, tied for second with six forced fumbles and tied for third with 15.0 sacks.

"Big thing is just knowing where he's at on the field, being able to mix up the cadence so he can't get a jump on our offensive linemen and beat him off the ball," Mills said. "Also, we have protection stuff where we can get a little help to our tackles if he's coming off the edge too fast, so we'll be able to figure it out that way."

The Texans are coming off their best rushing performance since Week 9 of the 2019 season against Jacksonville. In Week 16, Houston recorded 189 net yards rushing, led by Rex Burkhead, who rushed for 149 yards on 22 carries and scored two touchdowns.

On Wednesday, the NFL announced that Burkhead was voted FedEx Ground Player of the Week by fans. After his game on Sunday, Burkhead also received a game ball from Mills.

On the defensive side of the ball, DB Tavierre Thomas earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his Week 16 performance that included a spectacular 48-yard pick-six, his first career touchdown, as well as eight tackles (six solo), and one pass defensed.

"I kind of knew yesterday, but when I woke up, and I actually saw it, it was amazing," Thomas said Wednesday. "Just to see that and see my mom, my family and my teammates happy for me and my coaches texting me this morning. It was nice. It was great."

And one more honor to cap off the end of 2021: Andre Johnson was named a finalist for the 2022 Hall of Fame Class by the selection committee.

"He's had a bunch of 'wow' factors during his career," Head Coach David Cully said. "He was big, he was strong, he was the total package. I'm talking about tough, everything you would want in a (wide receiver). He was the prototype wide receiver in this league. Coming through that time he did. His consistency from the start to the end, he was just as productive at the end as he was at the start. He is what you would actually want if you wanted to draw up one. This is the kind of guy you'd want to draw up to play wide receiver for you. Plus, he was a tremendous person, too, off the field. I just remember him in college, we knew he was going to be special, and he's been special. He's been special enough to be nominated for the Hall of Fame and (is) well-deserving."

Read all about No. 80's selection here.

The Texans will travel to San Francisco for their Week 17 game against the 49ers. Sunday's kickoff from Levi's Stadium is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on CBS and SportsRadio 610.

Watch the Houston Texans take on the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium on January 9. Kickoff is at noon. Click here for tickets.

Check out the best photos from today's practice.

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