Houston made a dent in the record books with a 42-28 win over Jacksonville on Sunday. Wide receiver André Davis became the first Texan to return two kickoffs for a touchdown in one game. The team set a franchise single-game scoring record with 42 points and finished with the best record in Texans' history at 8-8.
Best for last: The Texans saved their best offensive performance for the last game of the season, lighting up the scoreboard with 42 points. It was the most points the Texans have scored in team history, eclipsing the previous high of 36 against Tennessee earlier this season.
Houston racked up three rushing touchdowns and threw for another, all of which was made possible by a stellar performance from an offensive line that cleared the way for 170 yards rushing and directed traffic like never before.
"I think our offensive line said we're going to win today," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think they played like, 'Hey, we're going to win this game. Coach, run the dang ball. We're going to win this game.'
"I look at guys like (Ephraim) Salaam and (Mike) Flanagan, guys that have been playing forever. They've been on three teams; they've been in Super Bowls. There wasn't a lot at stake for them today, but they knew it was important for us to win. And I asked those young guys to take a look at guys like them today, because that's what this league is all about."
One young guy did pay attend, guard Mike Brisiel. Brisiel moved up from the practice squad in early December and was especially impressive as a starter.
"I knew Mike stood for all the right stuff," Kubiak said. "The biggest compliment I can give to him is when we first decided to start him against Tampa, we were going to rotate him. After the first two series the linemen came off, I said keep him in there. That's a big time compliment, so Mike is well on his way to becoming a very good pro."
Quarterback Sage Rosenfels, who started his fourth consecutive game for an injured Matt Schaub, turned in another solid performance, throwing a touchdown and completing 11 of 18 passes. This season, Rosenfels threw 15 touchdowns and helped set a franchise record for single-season passing yardage with 3,751.
"You have to take small steps to get where you want to go," said Rosenfels, who was 4-1 as a starter.
"You have to take steps. We won six last year and eight this year. We were in some very tight ball games and some playoff-type atmospheres. We'll learn from those this year, and they'll help us next year."
Kubiak also saw finishing at .500 as a good stepping stone towards where the team wants to next season: the playoffs.
"I'm proud of the way we finished today, and we have to get better," Kubiak said. "It's going to be extremely difficult. We have to be willing to go chase some of those teams, and we will."
The one-two punch: Coming into this AFC South rivalry game, the spotlight was shining on a pair of running backs who have helped the Jaguars rank second in the NFL in rushing with 153 yards a game.
Well, Jacksonville's Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew covered zero ground Sunday as they watched the game from the bench and rested for the playoffs.
Instead, it was the unsuspecting one-two punch of rushers Ron Dayne and Darius Walker who led the charge. The two combined for 170 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
"Usually in a game like this, the last game of the season, the mindset with both teams, usually the most physical team and the team that plays the hardest finds a way to win," Kubiak said. "That's what we did in running the football. They did a heck of a job there."
The "Dayne Train" accounted for two touchdowns and 88 yards on the ground in his return after missing two starts with a sore ankle. He set a career-high with 773 yards rushing this season and had six touchdowns for the season.
Walker, an undrafted rookie, scored his first career touchdown on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter to put the Texans up 42-21. He helped set up that touchdown with a 41-yard run, which is the longest of his career.
"We wanted to run the ball, and we wanted to run it early and often, and we did that," Walker said. "Me and Ron, we had a great game, but we really have to give kudos to the offensive line."
Walker showed how far he had come since the beginning of the season when he was struggling to get reps on the practice squad.
"I think Darius has shown that he has the ability to play in this league, but with Darius it's really just about his growth," Kubiak said.
To read more about the Texans' running tandem, click here.
Special day for Davis: Wideout André Davis signed a one-year deal with the Texans in 2007 and wanted to prove his worth in the last game of the season.
Judging by Davis' performance, he should be getting the big bucks.
He entered the game ranking second in the NFL in yards per catch (17.6) behind only Joey Galloway (17.8). Sunday, Davis bumped up that average to 17.7.
His brilliance came on special teams. When wide receiver Chad Owens muffed a punt, Davis recovered the fumble at the six-yard line to set up Houston's first touchdown and tie the game at 7-7.
With 15 seconds left in the half, Davis blew by a first wave of Jacksonville defenders, cut to the outside and then sprinted down the sidelines for a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The score gave Houston a 21-14 lead and an infusion of momentum going into the third period.
Ironically, it Davis who took the momentum and ran with it. Literally. The six-year veteran opened the second half with a 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Linebacker Charlie Anderson came up with a key block and Davis wove down the middle of the field until he found a clear path to the end zone.
"I think I have that type of sneaky speed where a lot of guys don't think I'm going to run that fast until I get by them," Davis said.
Davis notched three kickoff returns for touchdowns this season. He also became the seventh person in NFL history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game.
To read more about the Davis' performance, click here.
Hearty defense: The Texans may not have put together their strongest defensive performance of the season, allowing a reserve-heavy Jacksonville team to score 28 points; however, they left a lot of heart on the field.
Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who was named a starter to the 2008 Pro Bowl, played his last game of the season with a partially torn right knee. Ryans has been limping on the knee for several weeks, but he refused to go to the sidelines.
"The guy that plays in the middle, probably had no business on the field the past month, but I couldn't get him off the field." Kubiak said. "The kid has a knee problem, and can barely walk out there, but that just tells you what he's made of.
"When we got him a couple times, I'd look up and he's right back in. I think it's had a big, big effect on us, especially today. That's a big credit to him, for the kid to stay in there and play."
Ryans' contagious enthusiasm on the field has helped make him the heart and soul of defensive coordinator Richard Smith's unit. Despite the injury, he led the team in tackles for the season with 124.
"It's one thing to be injured, but it's something you have to just push through," Ryans said. "Put it on the back burner, just go out. Not just go out injured, but to be smart about it and just give it what you got if you can."
The Texans did finish with two sacks, but neither came from their other big defensive leader, Mario Williams. Williams came into the game second in the league in sacks with 14 and had recorded a sack in the six pervious games. Still, he did his part by coming up with four tackles.
Linebacker Charlie Anderson, who started for an injured Danny Clark, threw down backup quarterback Quinn Gray twice for a combined loss of 17 yards.
"It was great for me, because as far as mentally I let myself know that I'm able to play in this league," Anderson said. "Just getting over that hump, and just being able to play out there with those guys, it was a great season for me. I think I learned a lot."
For the first time in team history, Houston recorded more sacks than the offense allowed. The Texans finished the year with 31 sacks to their opponents' 22, which put the team in the top seven teams for fewest sacks allowed.
After the game, the Texans knew they had accomplished something special in 2007. Several players, like Williams, went to the stands to shake hands with fans and thank them for their support. Others lingered on the field to soak up the final cheers.
"It's a special, special win for us, and it's a great way to end our season on that," Ryans said. "We'll use it as a building block, a starting point to where we can't go back. From this point on, we expect to be better than we were this year."