Johnson set a career high for touchdown receptions this season, but is focused solely on getting his team to the playoffs in 2008.
Texans players were in high spirits Monday during their final visit of 2007 to Reliant Stadium. With a season-ending 42-28 victory over division rival Jacksonville in one hand and the franchise's first-ever 8-8 season in the other, it was time for vacation and the start of 2008.
As players cleaned out their lockers and waited for their individual checkout meeting with general manager Rick Smith, they shared their thoughts on a 2007 season that was up-and-down and ended very much in-the-middle as the Texans finished with an even 8-8 record.
"It didn't go like we wanted, but we got a winning season, so that's the first thing," said defensive end Mario Williams, who finished with 59 tackles and 14 sacks in his second year in the NFL. "We're trying to change the way things have been around here, and this is just the beginning, so we've just got to keep going."
The Texans started 2007 better than any season in franchise history, going 2-0 with resounding wins over Kansas City and Carolina, at the time a favorite to win the NFC. Then the injury bug hit, dropping key players like Steve McKinney, Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Ahman Green and Dunta Robinson.
With what at one point was a league-leading 17 players on the injured/reserve list, the Texans lost five of their next six but rallied under head coach Gary Kubiak's leadership to finish the season strong. They went 5-3 in the second half of 2007 and won three of their last four, including victories over playoff-bound Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.
"We finished on a great note, to take that step to finish 8-8 for this franchise, and next year we can look forward to winning more ball games," Schaub said. "I'm definitely looking forward to next season; I wish it started next week."
Wide receiver André Davis, who tied for the NFL lead with three kickoff returns for touchdowns and had 583 receiving yards and three touchdowns this season, isn't sure where he'll be in 2008. Like veteran Danny Clark, who started eight games for the Texans at strong side linebacker, Davis is at the end of his one-year deal with the team and will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Both players have said they would like to remain in Houston. Davis, for now, is counting his blessings as he looks back on a successful 2007.
"God has brought me through a lot," Davis said. "I've been through ups and downs in my career and everything, and to finally be able to get to a point going into an unrestricted free-agent year, this is the type of way you want to be able to end it off, just to show people what you can do and show them how valuable you can be."
Since his big game against Jacksonville, Davis has been getting an earful from teammates about staying put with the Texans, but he's putting the free agency talk on hold as he his wife, Janelle, eagerly await the birth of their first child.
"Right now, I'm going to be really able to enjoy this time with my wife and my new baby that's coming along," he said. "We're just going to try and enjoy this time and let everything else play itself out."
While most players looked forward to getting time off to rest and travel, injured/reserve players like running back Chris Taylor and tackle Charles Spencer expressed their hunger to return to action next season after watching their team progress from the sidelines this year.
"I've been on vacation too long," Spencer said with a heavy smile. "It was tough (this season); I definitely wanted to be out there on the field. I'm not a guy that sits around and watches people play, but I thought I handled it pretty well. So I'm excited about being out there next year and to contribute to this team, because that's what I like to do."
The return of those players and the other injured Texans, coupled with free agency and the 2008 draft, in which the Texans will pick 18th, should only add to the team's momentum heading into next season.
"A lot of people ask me do I set goals," said Johnson, who had a career-high eight touchdown catches in just nine games this season. "I only have one goal, that's getting to the playoffs. All the other things happen if you go out and perform well on the field."
Texans players lament that they were a last-second loss at home against Tennessee, a failed last-minute winning drive against Indianapolis or a squandered game at Atlanta away from the playoffs this season. Rather than make excuses, they're looking forward to an offseason to rest, relax and improve for the future.
"We're definitely excited about it," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We feel like we should have been a playoff team this year and didn't make it. We're definitely going the right direction. Getting to the 8-8 is a point where we can't go backwards from now on.
"We set the standard at eight wins, but we can't go back. We have to be able to find a way to get those other two or three wins."
In a little more than a month, Ryans will head to Honolulu for his first career Pro Bowl as the starting middle linebacker for the AFC. He anchors a young Texans defense with several emerging stars, including Williams, Robinson, Amobi Okoye and Travis Johnson.
"I'm just happy, I'm excited and eager to see how guys are going to grow, how they're going to evolve into great players," Ryans said. "With the nucleus of our defense being so young, guys have a lot learning to do, a lot of growing to do. It's going to be exciting to watch."
Judging by the potential the Texans flashed in 2007, the entire 2008 season should be exciting to watch for Texans players and fans alike.