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Super Mario strikes again


Defensive end Mario Williams does a post-sack hula dance while being swarmed by teammate Earl Cochran.

The stage was not too big for Mario Williams.

The Texans' No. 1 draft pick of 2006 had been building in recent weeks for the national television lights and he didn't disappoint his teammates Thursday night.

Williams thrilled a capacity crowd at Reliant Stadium with his best game as a pro with 3.5 sacks and seven tackles as the Texans evened their record at 7-7 with a pulsating 31-13 victory over the Denver Broncos.

"This is our first big stage game," Williams said. "Everybody was watching. We were the only game on. We kind of showed the world what we can do."

What a change from last season when Williams was the brunt of fan displeasure over the Texans not drafting hometown hero Vince Young or USC running back Reggie Bush.

Williams started this season with a sack and an impressive game against Kansas City. But it wasn't until recently that he started excelling with nine sacks in the last five games.

{QUOTE}Now, the fans are chanting his name and the Super Mario Bros. video game theme song plays in Reliant Stadium after Williams' sacks.

"It's amazing to have right behind your bench your names being shouted," Williams said. "It's a big stage, something I've never been in front of. We just came out there and played ball."

Williams has gathered steam as the season has progressed. He's the only NFL player who has at least one sack in his last five games. He leaped into the lead among AFC sackers with 13 for the season.

Williams is glad to see the turnaround, not only for himself but for the organization.

"With everything that happened with the situation I was in last year and the criticism the owner and the coaches and the whole organization had, this was big for us just to show what we could do and what we were capable of," Williams said. "Tonight was a great game and I'm glad to be a part of it."

Williams blossomed into an entertainer as the game progressed. Well, anyway, he tried. After his third sack, he attempted to do a hula dance that wasn't going too well and then, linebacker Earl Cochran jumped on his back and ended the performance. Earlier, he struck a Superman pose.

"The Superman thing was from (tackle Rashad) Butler," Williams said.

The Texans must be forgiven for struggling with their celebrations. It's been a long season that is turning into something special.

"If I'd known he was doing it, I'd have given him a little more TV time," Cochran said laughing. "I messed up his celebration, but I'm proud of him. He's been really working hard.

"I liked it when the fans jumped on his bandwagon and started chanting his name today."

No one was prouder of Williams than coach Gary Kubiak.

"I'm just happy that good things keep coming his way," Kubiak said. "It's a great example of a young guy and the pressure he went through last year and the pressure that was on him as a very, very young man. I kept telling y'all that the most impressive thing about him last year was that he kept playing hurt and never said a word.

"This year he's just been battling and battling and he got a big stage to play on tonight and he stood up and said, 'Hey, I'm having a great year.' I'm just very proud of the kid and his effort."

So what's caused Williams' outstanding play late in the season?

"I don't know, man," Williams said. "It's a blessing, that's the first thing to say. I haven't had anything holding me back as far as little nicks and bruises. The team is playing great. The offense is staying on the field. Everybody is making plays and it's just helping me out."

Williams is being rewarded for his tenacity over the past two seasons. He's now being mentioned as a sure thing for the Pro Bowl.

"That's out of my hands," he said. "I'd like to (go to Hawaii). It would be a great accomplishment, but the important thing is these last two games. Hopefully, if I do go to the Pro Bowl, we can play in January before that. We have to take care of business."

The Texans are 7-7, their best record ever this late in the season, and a long-shot for a playoff spot. Still, the way Williams is playing, he might help push the Texans into the playoffs and make the Pro Bowl.

"I'm so much more comfortable now," he said. "As the week goes on, I talk and look at the plays and how they work and look at film and how it will work if we were in this or that and I go with it."

N.D. Kalu, Williams' backup, even got into the sack act. He had 1.5 sacks and thinks a more relaxed defense is playing batter.

"This is how we expected to be playing coming out of training camp," Kalu said. "Unfortunately, we haven't been that consistent with it, but we are happy we're playing better late in the season.

"I think we're looser. Going into the season, we were kind of tight because we wanted to do so well. Then, we lost four in a row. We kind of just said, 'We have nothing to lose, let's go play ball.'"

That's what the Texans are doing and that's how Williams is playing.

"I'm just having fun," he said. "Thank God I'm just glad to be in a position to do it. That's what I was drafted for. I feel like I have to be accountable to my teammates and this organization to go out and try to help us win a game and get a winning season.

"Now we've got these last two games and we've got to take them one game at a time and hopefully we can go ahead and get this thing done."

Kalu isn't too critical of Williams' dancing.

"When you are 6-9 and 300 pounds, you probably don't dance too good," Kalu said. "As long as he gets sacks, I don't care."

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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