The Texans have lost their last two games, but they could be getting back their best offensive player and top defensive coach after a short Christmas break this weekend.
All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson has missed the last three games with a left hamstring injury. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the architect of the Texans' remarkable turnaround on defense this season, has missed the last two games after taking a medical leave of absence for surgery on his kidney and gallbladder.
Both have eight more days to recover until the Texans face the Tennessee Titans in their regular-season finale on Jan. 1.
"I'm hoping (Johnson) is back out there this week," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Friday. "We'll see what happens, but he'd be a nice addition to get back."
The Texans' offense has been sorely lacking a deep threat with Johnson out of the lineup. In Week 14 against Atlanta, rookie quarterback T.J. Yates completed three passes of 20 yards to Johnson in three quarters before Johnson was injured. In the three games since then, Yates has completed a total of seven passes of 20 yards, but only two have come on deep balls. The rest have been on screens and other short passes.
The Texans went 1-of-10 on third down against the Colts on Thursday and 2-of-9 in their Week 15 loss to Carolina. They're 2-of-7 in the red zone in the last two games. Johnson won't solve those problems all by himself, but it's hard to imagine him not helping.
Kubiak was asked if he's still in the same "holding pattern" with Johnson, who did not practice last week but was able to run with trainers on a side field.
"I have no hold on him," Kubiak said. "When they tell me he can go, he's going. It's been a process. They've been working with him off the field, trying to get him ready to turn him over to me and put him on the field. It's my understanding that we're real, real close. I'll let you know. If it happens, it'll be early next week."
Phillips' status is a bit less certain, but all reports from Kubiak have been positive since Phillips had surgery last Thursday. A day before his surgery, Phillips said doctors told him he would be out 7-10 days, which would put his return right around next Monday.
The Texans have been stout defensively but faltered in the fourth quarter in their two games without Phillips. On four fourth-quarter drives against the Panthers and Colts, they have allowed an average of 71.5 yards and a total of 17 points.
Kubiak wasn't sure on Friday if Phillips would coach against the Titans.
"I can't answer that," Kubiak said. "I'm just worried about him getting well. I'm not worried about when he comes back. It is my understanding he's either coming out of the hospital today or was released yesterday. I have not talked to him."
The Texans are off this weekend after playing two games in five days. The extra rest should be particularly helpful for players like tight end Owen Daniels (knee) and nose tackle Shaun Cody (knee), who both started on Thursday night after being listed as questionable. They're two of 12 Texans players who did not participate in practice or were limited on Wednesday.
"We need to freshen up and enjoy Christmas with the family," Kubiak said. "They went through a real tough two weeks there, not only losing two games but physically and mentally with our schedule, as difficult as it was. Try to freshen up them up, come back in here Monday, correct our mistakes, look forward to what we've got to do to get better as a football team and get back to work."