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Win gives Texans hope for future

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Running back Ron Dayne finished as the Texans' leading rusher for the second consecutive season.

No, this is definitely not like kissing your sister. Or anyone's sister.

Eight wins and eight losses is not a tie for the season. It is, in the words of Houston Texans players, "huge" – mostly because it is a place they've never been.

It's also a place they never wanted to be. But they'll take it for now.

"It's huge," defensive end N.D. Kalu said. "You've got to start somewhere and this is just another stepping stone. We won six last year and eight this year and hopefully we'll win 11 next year.

"This is not what we wanted to do, but it's definitely closer to what we've wanted."

This team knows how it started out. They had a strong preseason, then won their first two and talk abounded about how they were headed for the playoffs.

Even late in the season, when they had seven wins and could possibly reach nine and stay in the playoff picture – before the disastrous loss to Indianapolis – hopes were high.

But the reality of having more players on injured reserve (15) than any other NFL team eventually also set in and the Texans realistically accepted 8-8.

"People don't want to hear excuses," Texans chairman Bob McNair said. "And we don't want to make excuses. But these aren't excuses, they're just facts. We had seven starters who missed all or a big part of the year

"The coaches here still did a great job of getting these guys ready to play. And this is another threshold we've broken through. Next year, the playoffs will be our goal. But this team has markedly improved."

That fact sticks out the most, especially to the guys who have been here the longest. Like guard Chester Pitts, the only player to start every game in franchise history.

"It's kind of bad that it feels this good, but I'll take it," Pitts said. "It's been a long road. I've been through a lot with this team and at the end of the day I appreciate every part of it. I enjoyed it all.

"We're headed in the right direction and that's what is truly most important."

That direction is the way most players want to think of this team.

"It means we're moving in the right direction," tight end Owen Daniels said. "And we've got guys who want to be here now.

"It's huge. It's not a losing record and to be looking forward to the offseason with this record means a lot."

Offensive tackle Eric Winston agreed.

"You don't think about it at the time, but this definitely makes for a better offseason," Winston said. "It doesn't determine the outcome of next season or anything like that. But it means we're definitely getting better. You never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse and we're getting better."

And besides, eight wins is nothing to sneeze at.

"It's big to win eight games anywhere," Winston said. "But I don't think it's the pinnacle or where we want to be. At the same time, we've never done this before so it's a benchmark.

"The only thing that has been on our mind is winning. Obviously, to get a milestone like this is a good thing. But you compete because you want to win. That's something that drives the New England Patriots the same as it does the Miami Dolphins."

The Texans know they were on the verge of eight wins three seasons ago – and lost the final game to the league's worst team at the time, Cleveland. So this is definitely a different step.

"I wasn't here in the years past, but I've always kept in touch with guys around the league," the star of the game, wide receiver Andre Davis, said. "You have to take small steps to get where you want to go. It means a lot to the Houston organization to know you're building something. I see us finish 8-8 and I know that's not what we're shooting for, but it's something we can build on."

Something significant, according to veteran tackle Ephraim Salaam.

"I think it's remarkable," Salaam said. "To see the growth we've made from the time I got here last year to now. It's impressive, especially in the offensive line. We've come a long way despite a lot of injuries.

"People talked about the sacks, and could we get the number down? Well, we did."

The Texans allowed only 22 sacks this season, a record low for the franchise.

And quarterback Sage Rosenfels pointed out that beating Jacksonville meant the Texans finally won a division game this year.

"That was pretty big for us," Rosenfels said. "You never want to get shut out and we know our division is probably the best division in the league.

"For this organization, winning eight games is a big step. You have to take small steps to get where you want to go. It's hard to go from a 2-14 team (two years ago) to 14-2.

"We won some very tight games and some playoff-type atmospheres. We'll learn from those and they'll help us next year."

Coach Gary Kubiak put it in another perspective.

"If somebody would have told me that you were going to take Ahman (Green), Dunta (Robinson) and Andre Johnson and together they'd miss a total of 28 to 30 games," Kubiak said, "and that we would be where we are at today, I'd say that something good is going on.

"It's been a lot of hard work. The step from six to eight wins was very difficult, but like I told the players, the next step is even more difficult."

But perhaps Salaam summed it up best.

"To me, if you're not a loser," he said, "you're a winner and that's what we are."

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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