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Rivalry week for Texans

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The Texans recognize the Jacksonville Jaguars as a cantankerous bunch. They also suspect that the Jags aren't too pleased that the underdog Texans swept them last season.

With only five seasons of history, the Texans don't have the longevity to have a clear-cut rival. Still, the fledgling Texans play well against the usually favored Jaguars, giving their series all the earmarks of a growing feud.

The Texans won the first game between the two franchises in 2002 when they were supposed to lose. The Texans lead the overall series 6-4, all good ingredients for hotly contested battles ahead between the two AFC South Division foes.

Is there "bad blood" between these two teams? Some say yes, some say no. Others say give the series a little longer in the boiling pot.

"I'm not trying to start anything or give a sound bite, but they're a strong team," running back Samkon Gado said. "There is some sense of bad blood.

"They aren't my favorite team to play. They are so strong. They are like bullies in a sense. The best way to play a bully is to punch them back. So in some ways there is a rivalry starting."

Texans linebacker Danny Clark played his first four seasons in Jacksonville. Now he's a Texans starter. He expects plenty of competitiveness from his former teammates.

"They have a swagger," Clark said. "They have a coach who was a former player. He's instilled confidence in his players and they show it out there on the field. It's something we have to match and do better."

Clark remembers the embarrassment of losing to an expansion team in 2002.

"I know when we played them in 2002, we expected to beat them and it didn't happen," Clark said. "Being on this side, I'd like to think we expect to win. In this league, if you don't expect to win, you'll have a hard time doing so."

{QUOTE}Kicker Kris Brown doesn't think feelings of rivalry will play a part in Sunday's game in Jacksonville.

"Whether you like someone or not is immaterial once the whistle blows," Brown said. "This game is hard enough as it is. Once the ball is snapped, I don't think you think about whether you like the guy across from you or not.

"You're just trying to get the job done. We just have to go this week and prepare hard and show up on Sunday."

Clark expects plenty of chatter during the game.

"Yep, I'll keep it to a minimum," Clark said. "I won't do anything to hurt my teammates, which is more important. I can't get caught up in any emotional deal. I'll just go out there and play football.

"I've got a lot of good friends on that team, but between the lines in those 60 minutes, they are my enemies."

Just being in the same division makes a rivalry for cornerback Dunta Robinson.

"Any team in your division, it's always a little extra because everybody wants to be atop their division," Robinson said. "It is that extra sense of urgency. I think it's more when you play a team like Jacksonville."

There's growing competitiveness between the two teams that could lead to a seething rivalry.

"I'm learning the division and the rivalries that we have because it's obvious," coach Gary Kubiak said. "In Denver, we played Jacksonville a few times and I think just by playing them a few times it becomes a rivalry because they are such a physical football team.

"If you aren't ready to play and match them toe-to-toe physical wise, it's going to be a long day for your football team. I think our players just know they better have that mindset."

The Texans won their first division and road game 21-19 in 2002. The Jaguars shut out the Texans in 2003. Houston returned the favor in 2004. Houston has won three of its last five games with Jacksonville.

"Last year, we beat them twice, the year before that they beat us twice," Robinson said. "Any time we play every year, it's competitive. They want to come out with a victory. They don't want to go down with a loss."

Robinson, known for delivering big hits despite his size, expects his kind of game.

"It's just another day in the park for me," he said. "I won't change anything the way I play. I just have to make sure the guys are ready to play."

Robinson's strategy is to play as physical as the Jaguars.

"We're not trying to be the nail, we're trying to be the hammer," Robinson said. "You've got to play physical with these guys. You've got to hit them in the mouth. If you don't, they'll take advantage of you.

"They pride themselves in being the most physical team on the football field. We've got to make sure that doesn't happen."

Left tackle Ephraim Salaam played for the Jaguars before signing with the Texans. He sees the series as a chance to get bragging rights with his friends.

"I had a good time there," Salaam said. "When you can play against your friends, that's the best bragging rights."

Salaam knows the feelings on both sides.

"It's intense," he said. "When I was on that end, Houston was the spoiler. Now I'm on this end and we beat them twice last year. It just goes on.

"So many of these guys know each other. This franchise was started with (some) Jacksonville players. I'm an ex-Jacksonville player. You've got a lot of guys in each locker room that have played each other twice a year. That's going to start a rivalry."

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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