Texans hoping for another strong finish

HOUSTON Of course, since Gary Kubiak became the coach in 2006, this has also become the time of year when the Texans start playing their best.

The Texans have gone 10-4 overall and 7-0 at home in December games over the previous three seasons. Last year, they won their last four games to go 9-7, the franchise's first winning record. In 2008, Houston won five of its last six to go 8-8.

"Hopefully, we'll find it again. We don't do anything differently," Kubiak said Monday. "We just play a little better at the end."

It will take another December run, and some help from Jacksonville's opponents, for Houston to even have a shot at its first postseason berth. The Texans have lost five of six, but they're still only two games behind the Jaguars in the AFC South.

The remaining schedule starts with Monday's game against Baltimore (8-4), followed by road games at Tennessee (Dec. 19) and Denver (Dec. 26). Houston wraps up the regular season against the Jaguars at home on Jan. 2.

While a playoff appearance seems like a long shot, the Texans gather hope from how they responded when they were in this exact situation last year. They matched the New York Jets' final record, but missed the postseason when the Jets won their last game.

"It was pretty much the scenario that it is right now -- backs against the wall, still got a shot to make the playoffs," second-year cornerback Glover Quin said. "You want to finish strong. You get to the point where you just want to win, by any means necessary, to where you don't leave any regrets heading into the offseason."

Kubiak can't pinpoint what's kick-started his teams in past Decembers. He hasn't mentioned the trend to his players, or talked about where the Texans sit in the standings.

"I don't have to tell them that," he said. "They know that, they see that."

Kubiak's focus during Monday's team meeting was trying to resolve his team's pattern of fourth-quarter breakdowns. The Texans have led or been tied in the final quarter of their last four losses, including last Thursday's 34-24 defeat in Philadelphia.

"The concerning part is watching the film and turning the film on at 24-20 with a quarter to play and then watching the way we played the rest of the way," he said. "We've got to worry about that and fix that before the other stuff has a chance to happen for us. That's the immediate problem.

"Hopefully, we can get this thing turned around and win some football games down the stretch," he said. "If we do that, we'll have our chance. It's pretty obvious, but we better find out a way to win Monday."

Safety Bernard Pollard said the team only needs to eliminate mistakes late in games to mount another December charge.

"Anything can be done," Pollard said. "If we try to get ahead of ourselves, then there you go, we drop a game. You look at the games we've played -- we really should have maybe one or two losses.

"But you can't turn back the hands of time," he said. "What's on paper, what's in the win-loss column, that's there to stay. Things are not going to change unless we change them."

The Texans came into the season with high expectations and bold talk about challenging for the division title. As disappointing as the year has been, quarterback Matt Schaub said the players still believe they can salvage it.

"We're a resilient team, we're going to keep playing," he said. "We're not going to give in. We're going to keep playing to the bitter end, whether it be within the ballgame, within the season, within the play. We're just going to play it until the end."

Notes: DE Mario Williams (sports hernia) and WR Andre Johnson (sprained ankle) sat out Monday's light practice. Kubiak said Johnson will return to practice on Thursday. OT Eric Winston and OG Mike Brisiel also skipped Monday's workout to rest sore shoulders. ... Pollard says he will appeal the $40,000 fine he received from the league for striking Tennessee WR Justin Gage in the head on a hit during their game on Nov. 28. "That's crazy, man," Pollard said. "I was surprised I even got fined. Things like that, man, with this league, you see the fines that they're taking out. It's getting a little ridiculous right now."

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