Texans take exception to "soft" talk

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The Texans know that it's going to be a heavyweight bout against the Titans on Sunday.

In a bully division like the AFC South, the last thing you need to be called is soft.

The Texans are still feeling the sting of their shocking season-opening loss to the New York Jets and some of the talk isn't very nice.

The Jets' 24-7 victory on Sunday was so convincing, the Texans are hearing comments questioning their toughness. The Texans face Tennessee on Sunday, hoping to get some of the fire back that helped them win a rugged 13-12 victory over the Titans last December.

"You can't control what other people say," wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "If that's how they feel, it's how they feel. That's something that you definitely look at and take to heart. You have to control that between the lines on Sunday."

The Texans dropped their season opener and so did Tennessee. Questions of toughness will be answered against the Titans.

"We're going to have another tough game this Sunday," Johnson said. "We'll go out and see if we're physical or finesse. We'll find out on Sunday."

No one questioned the Texans' toughness following last year's fierce divisional battle at Reliant Stadium. Coach Gary Kubiak expects another hard game and improved play from the Texans.

"It's been extremely physical from Tennessee's standpoint since I've been here," Kubiak said. "Just a few years ago, Jacksonville was leading this division. So, Indianapolis, if you play coverage all day, they can line up and run the ball at you, too. It's a good division, it's a physical division and winning in the division counts so much."

The Texans' offense was shut out by the Jets. New York shut down last year's rookie running back sensation Steve Slaton with 17 rushing yards. The Texans' offense totaled less than 200 offensive yards. Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez played like a veteran in his first pro game.

The Texans aren't arguing too much now about the criticism leveled against them.

{QUOTE}"It's fair," tight end Owen Daniels said. "I haven't been reading anything about it, but it's expected. We didn't play as physical as we should have. New York played better than us, but we've got another chance to go out there and prove ourselves and find our identity out there this week.

"There's no excuse for not playing physical. There are times you think too much, so you're not flying around and maybe more tentative about things. If we eliminate that, we'll be all right."

The Texans don't consider themselves soft. They finished 8-4 over their final 12 games last year. They know they CAN be physical. It's a matter of doing it, beginning Sunday in Nashville.

"I think after last week, you want to come back and prove yourself," Daniels said. "They are one of the most physical teams in the league, definitely in our division. I think we proved last year that we could go toe-to-toe with them, so we're excited about it."

Jets linebacker Bart Scott suggested the Texans might be a finesse team.

The Texans reacted along the lines of "sticks and stones…"

"We don't have 350-pound linemen who can power you off the line," right tackle Eric Winston said. "We play within our system. If you want to call that finesse, so be it. We don't play soft."

For whatever reason, the Texans weren't ready for the first game of the season. There's still time to get it right.

"It was the first game. We dropped one," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "The good thing about the NFL is you have a chance to redeem yourself. It's not like the college season, you lose one and that's it. We still have a chance to be a very good football team.

"Tennessee has had our number. We need to change that. We have to step up and show the teams we're not the pushovers of this division. We know we're going to have a great battle with them."

It's a matter of attitude this week.

"It's all about attitude," left tackle Duane Brown said. "We were trying to think too much about what they (the Jets) were trying to do. With Tennessee, we know what they are going to do and where they'll line up. That will make us play faster. The physical part is attitude."

The Texans also are looking for a bit of redemption from the season opener.

"You've got to prove people wrong," Brown said. "You only get to show what you can do on Sundays. We need to finish the week strong and show that we're not a finesse team on Sunday against a tough team.

"I'm sure that's stuck in the back of their head too, the last time we played them out here we ran the ball great on them and won the game. I'm sure they are going to come out with a different mindset from the last time, and we have to do the same."

Defensive back Jacques Reeves is trying to get back on the field from an injury. He had a sideline perspective on the Week 1 loss.

"We want to come out defensively and be physical, get a lot of guys around the ball and hit people," Reeves said. "We don't want to be known as a finesse team. We know what we need to do as a defense, we'll get that fixed this week and play better on Sunday.

"It wasn't a physical issue. There were a few times when people weren't where they were supposed to be. Other than that, we didn't play soft. You want to be more dominating, but we didn't play soft."

Ryans, the team leader on defense, hasn't made any fiery speeches about getting tough. His message: Just play.

"We have to step up and show that we're tough," Ryans said. "We can't talk about being a physical team. We have to go out and show it, and if we don't show it, there'll be talk about it."

EDITOR'S NOTE: *Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky., Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro teams. *

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