Winds of change

The kicker is usually the most anonymous player on an NFL team.

His meeting schedule, weight-lifting schedule and even his practice routine differs from everyone else. So Texans kicker Kris Brown can usually maneuver through the locker room with relative ease.

Not today. Every camera, tape recorder and notepad was parked right in front of Brown's locker Wednesday. The Pittsburgh media even requested him for a conference call. This is Steelers week for the Texans. And for Brown that means revisiting his gridiron past.

"This week is an important week but I'm not going to make it bigger than what it is," Brown said. "I'm going to continue the same approach I've had for 13 games, which is to work hard and try to go out and win the game."

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Brown played his first three seasons in Pittsburgh, connecting on 80 of 103 field goal attempts (77.7 percent). He was a restricted free agent and the Texans made him an offer. The Steelers had the right to match it but declined, sending Brown to Houston on Mar. 25 in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick.

"Clearly, field goals are a crucial part of our game in our first couple of years," Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. "Kris is in the prime of his career and he's going to be a big asset for us."

Through 12 games, Brown has made the Texans look smart, connecting on 72.2 percent of his field goal attempts. But despite a terrific career conversion percentage, it's Brown's perceived struggles last season -- the Steelers' first at Heinz Field -- that prompted so much scrutiny back in March. And those questions are resurfacing with Houston's upcoming trip to Heinz Field.

Brown made 30 field goals in 2001, more than any other kicker in the NFL. But he also missed 14 field goals, including 10 of 24 at home. Then again, opposing kickers hit only 5 of 11 at Heinz Field last season, where the swirling winds off the Allegheny River seem to wreak havoc.

"The stadium, being where it's located geographically, it does get cold weather," Brown said. "But I don't think there's anything that the stadium presents differently than any other stadiums in the northeast. You certainly have some challenges in Buffalo, New England and Cleveland."

This season, Steelers kickers have hit 9 of 14 field goals at home, while opposing kickers are 8 of 12 in Pittsburgh. Brown doesn't pay attention to those numbers.

"The bottom line is both teams have to play in it so there's no sense in going out there and making excuses about the stadium and the turf and this and that," he said.

The numbers that Brown and the Texans do pay attention to are from this season, where Brown has been a tremendous asset to a team struggling to score points. He has nailed 13 of 18 field goal attempts, nine of those from 40 yards or more. Brown provided the winning points in Houston's wins over the Jaguars and Giants, kicking a 45-yarder to beat Jacksonville and a 50-yarder to defeat New York.

"Kris has done a good job kicking field goals in pressure situations," Texans head coach Dom Capers said. "That's why we have him."

So this week, Brown is going to approach his job with the same diligence that has marked his four seasons in this league. And if he happens to help Houston steal a road game from his old team, well, all the better.

"I made a lot of great friends there and still have a lot of great friends there. But once this season started, I became a member of this team and this organization and to be honest I haven't thought about last year one minute since I've been here."

         "The
         only thing I'm worried about is what the guys in this locker room
         think. And the guys in this locker room know I'm going to prepare
         this week just like I have for every game this year."
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