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Texans close book on '08


Less than 24 hours after their win over Chicago, the Texans returned to Reliant Stadium to meet with coaches and clean out their lockers. The routine was the same for most players, but there was a different feeling inside the locker room.

"This is the most fun I've had," wide receiver Andre Johnson, finishing his sixth season in Houston, said. "I think all of the guys can vouch for that. I think we're much closer as a football team. I think we grew a lot this year, and like I said, we just have to keep moving forward. We just have to keep working to be where we want to be."

After starting the season 0-4, the Texans went on to string together an 8-4 record, which included going 4-1 in December. They became the 10th team in NFL history to start 0-4 or worse and end .500 or better.

"We've set the bar pretty high," wide receiver Kevin Walter said. "We have high standards for ourselves. Being 8-8 this year compared to last year is a night and day difference. Same record, but I think our team is a heck of a lot better than it was last year at this time. We're a few plays here and there from getting where we want to be, obviously - in the playoffs. We've just got to do a better job next year and come ready and play our game like we have been the past month."

{QUOTE}Much the team's success can be attributed to the offense, which put up some of the gaudiest numbers in franchise history. The Texans finished third in the league in offense (382.1 ypg) and fourth in passing (266.7).

"I think a ton of guys emerged," quarterback Matt Schaub said. "We knew what Andre could do. Kevin Walter stepping in, you know, he had a 900-plus-yard season and Owen Daniels getting voted a Pro Bowl alternate. He had a tremendous year and is one of the better tight ends in the league. And (Steve) Slaton stepping in as a rookie and playing the way he did. We have a ton of talent and a ton of guys that can make a lot of plays. It's just about putting them in position to make plays and executing our offense."

Johnson led the league with 115 receptions and 1,575 yards and became the first player in NFL history to have at least 10 catches in seven games.

Slaton locked up the rookie rushing title with 1,282 yards, which ranked second among all AFC players behind the 1,312 yards gained by the New York Jets' Thomas Jones.

"It is a long season, and this being the first year, I really was getting used to playing this long," Slaton said. "But I think I surprised myself with how long I lasted."

The day was bittersweet for linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who was slowed by nagging knee and ankle injuries for most of the season. He will use the offseason to get healthy, but he wished the team was playing in the postseason.

"I just tried to stick in there and battle it out with my guys, not let them see how hurt I was," Ryans said. "(I was) just battling hard and showing them that I'm still there for them. I'm still going to lead them no matter what, no matter what kind of pain I'm in. I'm still going to out there and put it all on the line for my guys.

"The way we ended yesterday, we were just like, 'Man, this can't be it.' It felt so good to get that win, and we played good as a team. We were down early, and to see the way our team battled back to finish that game, it was fun. You never want to leave it like this. You know other teams are still playing for something big, and that's the Super Bowl."

Bruner says goodbye
Tight end Mark Bruener didn't want to be rushed as he packed up his belongings and said goodbye to his team of the last five years.

"It's always different after the season than when you're in the middle of a work week, but it's the way the game goes and it's part of it," Bruener said. "Looking back on it, I've really enjoyed my time in Pittsburgh and I've enjoyed my time here in Houston and it's been an honor."

Bruener, a 14-year pro, played his final game with the Texans on Sunday. He had only played in two games this season, but was activated against the Bears and named the team's honorary captain.

The schedule ahead
The Texans can't help but think ahead after finishing the season with a stellar showing in December in which they beat the Jaguars Packers, Titans and Bears.

Now, they have something to look toward: Their 2009 schedule has been set. Houston will host games against AFC South opponents Tennessee, Indianapolis and Jacksonville as well as Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, New England and the Jets.

The Texans will hit the road to face the Titans, Colts, Jaguars, Cardinals, Rams, Dolphins, Bills and Bengals.

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