Houston's NFL team is back in the playoffs after winning the AFC South. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates rallied the Texans to a 20-19 win over Cincinnati, and the team earned the franchise's first postseason berth when New Orleans beat Tennessee.
The city is celebrating its first NFL division title since the Oilers won the AFC Central in 1993. The Texans (10-3), born as an expansion team in 2002, have won a franchise-record seven straight heading into Sunday's game against Carolina (4-9).
The families of the players and coaches joined the crowd at Reliant Stadium. Outside linebacker Mario Williams, out for the season with a torn chest muscle, was one of the first familiar faces coach Gary Kubiak spotted when he got off the team bus.
"That's what you work for," Kubiak said Monday. "That's why we've been doing what we've been doing, to get to that point where everybody could experience that."
Kubiak took some extra personal satisfaction in the turnout, because he grew up only a few miles from the Texans' home base.
"It's special to see that excitement," he said. "I know the hard work that's been put in, and the job that the coaches and players in this organization have done, to walk around our building (Monday) and see how proud everybody that works here is, it was a great day."
But Kubiak also stressed to his team that there's still work to be done. The Texans are one of four 10-3 teams in the AFC, and Kubiak talked to some of the veterans on the plane ride back from Cincinnati about maintaining the team's focus.
"We don't have many guys on our team that have been in playoff games," Kubiak said. "You probably could count on 10 fingers. I don't know how many we have, but the few that we do have need to keep our guys focused on what it's all about."
Houston has 14 players with postseason experience, including recently signed backup quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia.
Kubiak is hoping star receiver Andre Johnson returns after missing Sunday's game in Cincinnati with a "mild" left hamstring strain. Johnson was just coming back after sitting out six games with an injury to his right hamstring that required surgery.
Kubiak says he'll stay cautious with his star receiver, though he wants to get Johnson back in action as soon as possible.
"If I could, I'd have Andre back this next week," Kubiak said. "He needs to play, he needs to get back in the flow of things before we do get to January. But we've got to be smart here. He did nothing last week, a little running in the pool. We'll increase that this week. Where we'll be, I don't know."
Houston cut veteran Derrick Mason on Monday, and Kubiak says Jeff Maehl or Trindon Holliday will move up on the depth chart. The 37-year-old Mason signed after Johnson's initial hamstring injury, and caught only six passes in seven games.
The Texans also continued their remarkably bad run of serious injuries in Cincinnati. Right guard Mike Brisiel had surgery on Monday to repair his broken right leg, and Kubiak says he'll miss three to four weeks.
Williams and quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart were among the long list of players already lost to season-ending injuries. So far, as long as Yates stays healthy, the Texans seem to be OK.
The fifth-round pick completed 26 of 44 for 300 yards, and engineered the winning 80-yard drive at the end. He threw an interception and was sacked five times.
"Probably had a few balls he could have got rid of that he hung on to too long," Kubiak said, "but I did like the way he responded throughout the course of the game, the way he handled us on the road.
"We didn't have huddle problems, all those things you worry about with a young quarterback," Kubiak said. "How quick he grows up and how he progresses will have a lot to do with how far we go, so I think he took another step this week, though."
Yates was back at work Monday, studying a replay of the game with Schaub, Delhomme and Garcia.
"It's just going to continue to come back to decision-making, keeping the team in the right spot," Kubiak said. "He was in there first thing this morning, him and Matt (Schaub) and my two vets watching the film and trying to get better, so that's the most important thing."
Texans G Brisiel has surgery; waive WR Mason
Texans guard Mike Brisiel has undergone surgery Monday to repair a broken right leg, and coach Gary Kubiak is hoping he'll be back in three to four weeks.
Houston also waived veteran receiver Derrick Mason.
The Texans (10-3) signed the 37-year-old Mason in mid-October, after Andre Johnson went down with a right hamstring injury. Mason caught six passes for 55 yards in seven games. Johnson sat out Sunday's win in Cincinnati with a strained left hamstring, but Kubiak is hoping Johnson will return for Sunday's game against Carolina (4-9).
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Brisiel started all 13 games at right guard for the Texans. Antoine Caldwell will start Sunday's game.