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Texans keep focus during wild-card race


Andre Johnson said the team must focus on one opponent at a time.

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They are operating in rarified air now. These Houston Texans have never been this high this late in the season.

A 5-5 record is the best the Texans ever have had at this point of the season and that leads, of course, to one speculation – can the Texans make the playoffs?

The speculation increases when one realizes that the Texans next two opponents – at Cleveland and Tennessee – are both in the middle of wild-card battles themselves. Should Houston knock off both, the Texans would be in the middle of the same wild-card scramble.

But can you speak of it?

Not in this locker room.

"Coach (Gary Kubiak) warned us today not to talk about that," defensive end N.D. Kalu said with a big grin. "We can't get into that mentality. We have to think about one game at a time.

"He told us just not to say the 'P' word."

Of course, media people are glad to say the 'P' word – playoffs, if you're wondering – because it's the subject on everyone's minds. But players have their mouths figuratively taped up.

"Coach just doesn't want us to get caught up in the talk," Kalu said." And he said the same people who want you to talk about it are the ones who counted you out earlier in the season. But I guess you're getting me to talk about it anyway."

{QUOTE}Kubiak confirms that outlook.

"We are worried about playing one game," Kubiak said. "We are worried about playing Cleveland. The people we play from here on out, I think almost all of them will be a playoff football team right now if it started today.

"We are playing some great football teams down the stretch. We just need to stay focused on what we are doing and play good football and give ourselves the best chance to be successful. Our focus was on Wednesday and we had a good Wednesday. We practiced good."

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans won't get into that playoff talk either.

"We're just looking at one week at a time," Ryans said. "We're not worrying asbout playoffs right now. We need to win every game we an and at the end of the season look up and see where we are."

But even the low-key Ryans admits the feeling is different now.

"The confidence is riding high," Ryans said. "We're getting on a roll of winning. The buzz in the locker room is great. When you have that feeling, it carries over to each game.

"There's definitely a good feeling going on around here."

And with that feeling comes higher expectations.

"The expectations we have, this is new for us," kicker Kris Brown said. "It just hasn't been here before.

"But no, we're not talking about playoffs at all. We've got a huge challenge ahead of us this week and that's the only thing we're thinking about."

Cleveland is 6-4 and in second place in the AFC North. The Texans are 2-2 against the Browns with wins in the last two meetings, including a 14-6 victory in Houston last year.

And the players know a run in the last six games could catapult Houston into the playoffs.

"We know how important these last six games are," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "The guys are just ready to win. It would mean a lot to win this game. It would help us get another step toward our goal.

"I think we have it right now. We have a great coaching staff and they know what to do for this team. We're getting it right."

Johnson also believes the Texans, in their sixth year of existence, can no longer fall back on that expansion team excuse. They no longer feel like a team that is just starting up.

"We were an expansion franchise for one year," Johnson said. ""After that, we're just like any other franchise. We just have to win.

"We felt good last week. We had a week off after a win in Oakland and we came back wanting to win more. I think the guys are ready to win."

That's why the team is in this position, where the 'P' word can actually be a problem.

"This is definitely a meaningful game for us," Kalu said. "As players, we're not trying to make the team for next year or trying to get good performances on tape like we were at this point last year. We're actually playing for something."

Kalu knows that winning now will mean this team has definitely arrived.

"Just winning these kinds of games, games away from home that actually mean something, that's when you have finally made it," Kalu said. "We have to take that step."

Johnson agrees.

"We just have to take them one game at a time now," he said. "We know if we do that, we can get where we want to be."

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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