HOUSTON, Texas — A win over the New England Patriots on Sunday would mean everything to the Houston Texans.
The opposite couldn’t be said for the AFC East champion Patriots, who have already wrapped up their playoff spot and whose starters could see limited action.
Houston remains in playoff contention entering the last regular-season game for the first time in franchise history, competing primarily with Denver, Baltimore and the New York Jets for one of two AFC wild-card spots. To get in the Texans need a victory and two of those teams to lose Sunday.
Those three teams all play after Houston’s game this weekend.
“We have to have some amazing things happen for us to get lucky and get in, but stranger things have happened,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “But we need to be sitting there at 3:30 on Sunday having played a good football game and we’ll go from there. We’ve got to take care of our business.”
Regardless of what the other teams do this weekend, a victory over the Patriots would give Houston a winning record for the first time in its underachieving eight-year history.
“It means a lot; we’ve never been in this situation before,” Andre Johnson said. “We know what’s at stake and we’re going to have to find a way to go out and win it.”
Kubiak took over in 2006 after Houston posted a franchise-worst 2-14 record the year before. The Texans have been 8-8 in each of the last two seasons.
“We started at the bottom,” Kubiak said. “We took over a team that had the first pick and was at the bottom of the barrel and we went to work with young guys and have been fighting the good fight, and we’ve made a lot of progress. The last couple years around here there have been no losing seasons, but we want to be a playoff team … so the expectations have changed here and that’s OK.”
New England coach Bill Belichick hasn’t divulged how much Tom Brady, Randy Moss and his other stars will play Sunday. He would say only that he’d “expect they’d be there” when asked if they’ll start.
Kubiak said the possibility the starters will rest has no effect on his preparation this week.
“We are preparing to play their team, what they do offensively, defensively and on special teams,” Kubiak said. “It’s a very, very deep football team and we have to prepare for what they do and in those phases of the game. We have our work cut out for us. We’re not going to get involved in that stuff. We just have to get our-selves ready to play.”
These teams have met just twice, the last a 40-7 Patriots win in 2006. That game came in David Carr’s last season in Houston and he had a tough day, throwing four interceptions and getting sacked four times.
The Patriots have faced Matt Schaub before, seeing the NFL’s current leading passer in one of his two starts for the Falcons before he was traded to Houston. He threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns for Atlanta, but New England escaped with a 31-28 win in 2005.
Belichick remembers that game clearly.
“He had a big day,” Belichick said. “He threw the ball all over the place. We couldn’t stop him, got out of the pocket a couple of times, scrambled. He was poised, accurate and made good decisions. He had an excellent day against us.”
Schaub is having the best season of his career. When he starts Sunday it will be the first time in his three years in Houston he’s played in every game. He missed five games in each of his first two seasons with the Texans because of injuries.
He has a franchise-record 4,467 yards passing and Johnson leads the league in receiving with 1,504 yards. The combination has helped the Texans build the second-most potent passing attack in the league.
Johnson believes having Schaub on the field all year has helped improve the entire offense.
“Me and Matt, when we’re out there playing, we’re on the same page,” Johnson said. “We both see the same things when we’re out there playing. I think that’s why we’ve been able to accomplish what we’ve been able to accomplish. Hopefully it’s something that’s going to get better and better.”
Houston beat Miami 27-20 last week for its third straight win. The Patriots are coming off a 35-7 win over the Jaguars.
“We’re happy with the win, but it doesn’t really mean anything,” Belichick said. “We’ve got a new challenge this week against a whole different matchup. Houston’s a team we’re really not that familiar with. We haven’t played them in a while and they’re a lot different than when we played them in ‘06 anyway.”