Year in Review: Special Teams

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Under the guidance of coordinator Joe Marciano, the Texans' special teams were a vital part of the Texans' 8-8 season, providing outstanding performances in every area.

Kicker Kris Brown set a team record with 115 points, connecting on 25-of-29 field goals (86.2 percent) and 40-of-40 extra points. Brown won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 5 against Miami when he booted five field goals, including a franchise-record, game-winning 57-yarder.

By finishing 2007 five-of-five from beyond 50 yards, Brown became one of just five kickers in NFL history to be perfect on four or more attempts from that range for an entire season.

The Texans became the fourth team in NFL history to return four kickoffs for touchdowns in a season – the first in 13 years. Jerome Mathis had an 84-yard touchdown in Week 3 versus Indianapolis, and André Davis returned three kickoffs for scores in the month of December, including two in Week 17 against Jacksonville, to earn AFC Special Teams Player of the Month honors.

Though Davis returned kicks in only eight games, he tied for first in the NFL with three kickoff returns for touchdowns and was second with a team-record 30.3-yard return average.

Rookie receiver Jacoby Jones served as the Texans' primary punt returner and finished seventh in the NFL with 9.5 yards per return. His average on returns was second among NFL rookies behind Miami's Ted Ginn, Jr. (9.6).

Veteran punter Matt Turk, in his first season with the Texans, averaged a team-record 41.7 yards per punt this season. Turk also set a team record with a 37.9-yard net punting average. He was a master at pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line, doing so 24 times on 55 punts (43.6 percent), the second-highest rate in the league.

Ever-steady long snapper Bryan Pittman converted every snap but one in Week 8.

Downtown Brown
Brown was solid in the first four games of the season, nailing six-of-seven field goal attempts and all 10 of his extra point tries. He added new meaning to the word consistency with one of the great kicking performances in NFL history during the Texans' 22-19 Week 5 victory over the Dolphins.

Brown made a team-record five field goals, connecting from 54, 43, 54, 20 and 57 yards. The final field goal sailed through the uprights with one second remaining, providing the winning margin and setting off a jubilant celebration in Reliant Stadium.

The ninth-year veteran out of Nebraska became the first kicker in league history to hit three field goals of 54 yards or more in a game and joined two others as the only kickers to ever make three from 50 or more yards in the same game.

"I've been doing this a long time, and I've never seen a kicking performance like the one the kid put on today," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's as impressive as I've ever seen. I'm kind of at a loss for words. It's special. I don't know if we'll ever see that again."

Adding an extra point in the game, Brown had 16 points to break his own team mark and earn AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the fourth time in his career.

The strong-legged kicker also nailed a 53-yarder against New Orleans in Week 11 and a 50-yard attempt two weeks later at Tennessee, remaining perfect from 50-yard range on the season.

Brown added to his historic season by converting a team-record six extra points in the season finale against Jacksonville.

Early returns from Jones, Mathis
After returning two punts for touchdowns in the preseason, Jones nearly went the distance in Week 2 at Carolina, dashing 33 yards on a punt return before being tripped up by the last defender.

It appeared the rookie would reach the end zone the following week against Indy when he broke free on a third quarter return, but he was stopped by Colts punter Hunter Smith after racing 74 yards to the Indianapolis 18. Jones separated his shoulder on the fall and sat out the next two games.

In the same game, Mathis returned the opening kickoff 84 yards for a score and finished with seven kickoff returns for 233 yards (33.3 average).

But the 2006 Pro Bowl specialist joined Jones on the sidelines in the following weeks. With a leg injury, Mathis did not play at Atlanta in Week 4 and was then placed on injured reserve, yet another disappointing end to a season for the talented third-year pro out of Hampton.

Dexter Wynn took the reigns in Week 4, returning both kicks and punts at Atlanta. Wynn was effective over the next few weeks, with a long return of 39 yards against the Falcons and a 32.8-yard return average against the Dolphins.

Davis stars down the stretch
In search of a game-changing threat, Marciano and Kubiak alternated Wynn and Davis for several weeks. Though Wynn averaged a solid 23.8 yards on 22 kick returns, neither he nor Davis could break the big play the special teams craved.

That changed with one return by Davis in Week 14. On the opening kickoff of the second half, Davis raced 97 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown to open up the Texans' lead in their win over Tampa Bay.

He earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week and didn't look back in the coming weeks – although he would do plenty of looking at Reliant Stadium's videoboard to locate defenders chasing after him on a string of long kickoff returns.

Against the Broncos, Davis showcased his blazing speed to an NFL Network audience with 116 yards on four kickoff returns (29.0 average), including a long of 50 yards.

Davis finished the season with a historic performance against Jacksonville with two kickoff returns for touchdowns – one a 97-yarder near the end of the first half, the other a team-record 104-yarder to open the second half.

He became the seventh player in league history with two kick return touchdowns in one game, and the second ever to return three kickoffs for a touchdown in the same month.

In all, Davis had five kick returns for 234 yards in Week 17, setting another franchise record with a 46.8-yard average. Kubiak marveled at Davis' speed after the game, but was even more impressed with the player's perseverance throughout the season.

"When he was returning kicks for us, when he first started, (general manager) Rick (Smith) and I had a conversation about him, and the conversation was, 'Do we think he's a kick returner?'" Kubiak said. "And we said that in all fairness, we needed to give him a few more games to look at him, and it was that week that he took one to the house against Tampa. He's probably the top guy in the league at this point after today.

"I can't remember how our conversation ended, but there's no doubt that he's a kick returner."

Turk's big leg
Turk, 37, who spent the 2006 season with the St. Louis Rams, set a franchise record in Week 1 with a 48.7-yard net punting average on three punts, including a long of 59.

Although he failed to retrieve an errant Pittman snap in the end zone during the Week 8 loss to the Chargers, Turk finished the season with several outstanding performances.

Against Tampa Bay, Turk had a net average of 42.0 yards on five punts and landed three inside the 20-yard line.

In Week 16 at Indianapolis, he pinned the Colts inside their own 10-yard line on all four of his punts and averaged 44.5 net yards.

Turk landed both of his two punts inside the 20-yard line against Jacksonville in the season finale.

In store
Brown, the only placekicker in Texans history, will look to add to his franchise-record 537 points next season.

Knowing that competition will strengthen the punter position after watching Turk wrestle away the job from Chad Stanley last year, Kubiak plans to bring in a player to challenge Turk during the offseason.

Jones should have another chance to return punts next season. The team will have to make a decision on its two talented kick returners – Davis, an unrestricted free agent, and Mathis, a restricted free agent.

Either player would give the 2008 Texans one of the most dynamic return threats in the league and make the special teams a force to be reckoned with yet again.

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