The Texans got back to work Monday, practicing for the first time since their 31-13 Thursday night victory over the Broncos. The team is out of the wild-card race, but the players are determined to finish with a winning season.
Winning record: At the beginning of the season, head coach Gary Kubiak said he wanted his team to play meaningful games late in the season.
The Texans are no longer in the playoff picture, but they still can still make a statement with their last two games of 2007. Victories over Indianapolis and Jacksonville, two of the hottest teams in the league, would give the Texans a winning record for the first time in franchise history.
"To get that done this year would be a huge step forward for this football team and this organization," Kubiak said. "We've got a chance, if we're going to do it, we're going to have to do it against a heck of a football team. That makes it even better from my standpoint."
Wideout Andre Johnson, who was drafted by the Texans in 2003, agreed that finishing 9-7 would mean a lot to the organization.
"Everybody was hoping for the playoffs, but unfortunately that's out the window," Johnson said. "We still have a lot to play for. We've never had a winning season around here, so we just have to look forward to that."
Defensive end N.D. Kalu said there were games the team wished they could have back, but the team was playing for pride.
"We're playing for the city of Houston to have a winning football team, we're playing for the owner of the team to have a winning football team and we're trying to keep jobs," Kalu said.
"Last year, we had a losing record, but it felt good at the end of the year because we beat the eventual Super Bowl champs. And we have a chance to do that again this year. We all saw what Jacksonville did against Pittsburgh. They're a great team. If we get a chance to beat them and the Colts, as bad as it feels not to be in the playoffs, we would still end the season with a good note."
Schaub's shoulder: Medical tests in California last week revealed exactly what quarterback Matt Schaub had hoped for: he has a shoulder injury that was properly diagnosed by team doctors. The next step is for Schaub to decide whether the injury requires surgery.
"I think there's a decision to make after the season - whether or not we think they need to surgically repair the issue that he has or not," Kubiak said. "But it was exactly what we thought it was."
The head coach said there is a good chance the Schaub could play as a backup to Sage Rosenfels in the two remaining games this season. Schaub took reps in practice Monday for the first time since suffering the injury in Week 13 against the Titans.
"I'm hoping that, if anything, this week he's ready to be Sage's backup going into the game," Kubiak said. "He did take some practice reps today, but I'm hoping that he's available this week."
Doctors assured Schaub that he would not risk further injury by playing. The quarterback has been aggressively rehabbing and strengthening his left shoulder and would like return to the field before the season ends.
Even if he doesn't make it back, Schaub said he has learned a great deal from his first year as a starter.
"I've had a lot of positive things, a lot of negative things, too, but that's part of the game," Schaub said. "You have to deal with both those things, and it's just a long season and (you) just keep moving forward and getting better. Mentally, I think I've grown a lot in this position, with how to be successful at this level."
Pro Bowl talk: On Tuesday, the NFL will announce its Pro Bowl selections and several Texans could find themselves on the list. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, kicker Kris Brown and defensive end Mario Williams have all turned in seasons worthy of a trip to Hawaii.
"I think any time any of your players are elected, it's about respect," Kubaik said.
"It would mean a great deal to our progress as a football team and an organization and a great deal to those players and this team."
That respect is especially important to Williams, who suffered from a painful foot injury and intense media scrutiny last season. The 2006 No. 1 draft pick ranks second in the league in sacks this season with 13. Williams' three sacks against the Broncos made him Houston's career sack leader with 17.5, and he has had a sack in a team-record five straight games.
"He's had a phenomenal year," said offensive tackle Ephraim Salaam. "I'd like to think it directly correlates to the work we've done together in the offseason. All through camp, me and Mario going one-on-one with each other seems to have paid off. I'll be looking for some type of bonus from him."
Salaam probably won't get a cut Williams' paycheck, but the left tackle could learn some hula dance moves. The typically media-shy Williams practiced the Hawaiian dance after throwing down quarterback Jay Cutler for the third time on Thursday.
On Monday, the defensive end downplayed the Pro Bowl hype.
"I was messing with him this morning," two-time Pro Bowler Andre Johnson said. "He's kind of trying to downplay it. But you kind of downplay it because you want to go, because it's something you work hard for.
"But I told him he's going to make it. I really don't see any reason why he shouldn't go. Sometimes people who should go, it doesn't happen for them, but I think Mario really deserves to go. I think he'll make it tomorrow."
Parting thoughts: "Love. We all love each other, man. I mean, working as hard as we've worked from April up until now, you just bond with the guys, you have an understanding with the coaches - the organization is behind us. When we say family, we truly mean family, and that's why we continue to go to war and go to battle no matter what happens." – Salaam, on what has kept the team together this season
Injury report: For the Texans' official injury report, **click here**.