As they prepared for the first playoff game in franchise history, Texans players and coaches raved about the team's intensity and focus at practice this week.
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the Texans' long-time defensive captain, said the excitement around the city of Houston has rubbed off on players. He called the Texans' practices on Tuesday and Wednesday two of their best of the year.
"He's right," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Thursday. "They're very focused on what they're doing and they're hard on each other this week, and that's a good thing. When players push each other, when players put pressure on each other to do things right, to prepare the right way, that's when your team comes together. And they've done that all year, but they've been exceptional this week. They've had a great week and they're ready to play."
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has enjoyed watching his second-ranked defense fly around the practice field at the Methodist Training Center.
"Danieal Manning must have had eight interceptions in practice this week," Phillips said. "He's been a phenom. We've had our defensive linemen just dominate. Our linebackers, outside backers have rest real well, so we're pointing towards the game. I think we're building towards a ball game and we're looking forward to it."
The intensity at practice has been so high that on Tuesday, the Texans' first day of practice, All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson said they could have played the Bengals that day if they had to.
"You can tell that the guys are ready to go," Johnson said. "Everybody was just 'in' the practice. The focus level was at an all-time high."
Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates hasn't been with the Texans nearly as long as Johnson, the longest-tenured Texan who was drafted third overall in 2003. But he has been around long enough to know that something special has been going on at practice.
"The energy at practice these last couple days has been remarkable," Yates said. "Guys are excited to be out there, flying around, yelling, screaming. The energy is encouraging and it's contagious. It's going throughout the whole team, the coaches, the coaching staff. Everybody's getting amped up, getting ready to play this game.
"Everybody is on their P's and Q's this week. We can't settle for having little mistakes that kind of set us back during the week throughout practice. It's all over the team. Nobody's letting anybody slack off a little bit – scout team, anywhere. Everybody's being extremely accountable, and I think that's important going into a big game like this."
Kubiak said his players are usually at their best when they're emotional. He wants them to play with that emotion this weekend.
Having won Super Bowls as an assistant coach in San Francisco under George Seifert (1994) and in Denver under Mike Shanahan (1997-98), Kubiak said the main thing he wants the team to carry into its first playoff game is to "just trust yourself."
"That's probably the biggest thing I learned from Coach Seifert and Coach Shanahan," he said. "When it came playoff time, you don't all of a sudden try to be somebody you're not. Stay consistent, believe in your players, believe in what you've been doing.
"That's what I'm trying to hold true to right here, and you know, I want them to cut it loose. I want them to play. I want them to have fun. They've earned a right to go out there and compete this weekend. They're one of 12 teams and I think they should enjoy it, so we're looking forward to it."