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Slaton keeps impressing

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Slaton had a career-high two rushing touchdowns in the 31-27 loss.

He had a day to remember. Unfortunately, it came in a game to forget.

Steve Slaton stood at his locker like all the other Texans on Sunday afternoon. Disbelief swirled around while shock set in as they contemplated the 31-27 fall-from-ahead loss.

But Slaton, the rookie from West Virginia, had accounted for himself well all afternoon. He had a strong outing, carrying 16 times for 93 yards and two touchdowns.

And he had a 41-yard dash in the fourth quarter that tied for the fourth-longest run in Texans history. It led to his second-one yard plunge and a seemingly insurmountable 27-10 lead with 6:42 to play.

All of that seemed lost in the void of despair after the stunning defeat.

"This is hard to imagine," Slaton said. "I guess it's just the nature of the game. I've been in tough games before in college and I know we'll get through this.

"We've just got to play hard the whole game. We kind of slacked up there at the end. We played a great three quarters, but then we gave them a little fresh air."

Slaton, who started for the third time in place of Ahman Green, couldn't be disappointed with his own performance.

"I think I did pretty well," said Slaton, who padded his team-leading rushing total to 285 yards and three touchdowns for the season. "I've got to watch the film, but I think it was OK. I know I still need to eliminate mistakes. Being consistent is the biggest thing for a running back."

{QUOTE}The 5-9, 203-pounder knows he has come a long way from his days at West Virginia, where he finished as the school's third-leading all-time rusher with 3,923 yards. Despite the glittering college statistics, Slaton dropped to the third round, the 89th overall pick in last April's NFL draft.

Slaton admits that left him with a bit of a chip on his shoulder entering the NFL.

"I think so," he said. "I just wanted to prove that I can play in this league. I wanted to show everyone that they were wrong to overlook me.

"But you've got to have a chip on your shoulder when you're a running back. That helps you work harder. You've got to always be proving yourself."

It hasn't been easy for Slaton in the pros. He says it was every bit as hard as he expected and he knows he still has a lot to learn.

"I've learned to study more at this level," he said. "You have to study a lot of film on the other team. And I've learned to talk to the veterans.

"You have to talk with them to find out what you can do. The veterans have all been helpful."

Slaton caught a pass for three yards Sunday, upping his season totals to 16 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. He expects even more from himself.

"I still need to be a little more versatile," he said. "I want to run better and catch more passes and show I can do it all."

That's at least in part because Slaton was considered a third-down back when he was drafted. At West Virginia, Slaton caught 53 passes for 710 yards and three touchdowns his final two seasons, leading to that reputation when he entered the NFL. But that's the kind of label that can doom a player to obscurity – or at best the second-team – in the pros.

"That's a big thing for any running back," Slaton said. "You don't want to get labeled like that. You want them to know you can play every down. I think I have shown them that."

Slaton, in fact, thinks he has shown he can be a starter, regardless of what happens with Green the rest of the way.

"I think I have a good shot at (starting)," Slaton said. "There's still a long way to go in the season and anything can happen, but I think I've proven that I have that ability."

Earning that starting role is something the 22-year-old from Levittown, Pa., always has wanted.

"This was a dream," Slaton said. "Starting in the NFL has always been my dream. I figure all the hard work I've put in in college has finally paid off. I hope I can keep it going."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Carley is a veteran Houston sportswriter who has covered the NFL for more than 25 years. He has worked for such newspapers as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Houston Post, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and the National Sports Daily covering such teams as the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Oilers, the Los Angeles Rams and the Oakland Raiders.

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