It was Year 6 of the franchise. Gary Kubiak was in his second season. The Texans jumped out to a 2-0 start for the first time ever. Then the injuries piled up as the squad lost four of its next five.
A 2-2 stretch followed, including an exhilarating home win over the Saints and a decisive victory over Tampa Bay, setting up a Thursday night showdown with Kubiak’s former employer, the Denver Broncos.
The Texans had not won in primetime since the opening night upset of Dallas. Sage Rosenfels would start at quarterback. The team had a chance to be 7-7, the latest in the season it would ever have a non-losing record.
Mario Williams was having the kind of campaign the team envisioned after he was drafted number one overall the year before. He came into the game with 9.5 sacks and was starting to consistently do damage after plantar fasciitis slowed him down his rookie year.
On this special night, Williams erupted for 3.5 sacks in front of a national audience. Jay Cutler was the Broncos QB and played pretty well, other than his run-ins with Mario.
The Texans defense shut down the Denver run game and their offensive coworkers got 158 yards on the ground behind starter Darius Walker and Ron Dayne, who came off the bench to run for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Rosenfels threw for 200 yards and a touchdown to Andre Johnson, who had 86 yards on six catches.
Two games later, the Texans would finish .500 with a win over a playoff-bound Jacksonville team. The 8-8 record was only good for last in the AFC South as the division had its strongest year ever, with three teams making the playoffs and no team with a losing record.
Williams would make four Pro Bowls in his career. His three-sack game against Jacksonville on Monday Night Football the following season was another primetime burst.
It would take two more years for the first winning season and four more for the first playoff berth. So, in context, that night at NRG Stadium was a stand-out performance.
Being a December Thursday, and with college football not yet in bowl season, the national media had a couple of days to give some props to a franchise that was finally flirting with a winning season. Williams got a slice of the national spotlight and would earn a robust 14 sacks on the year before it was all said and done.