The Houston Texans say they won't fall for the dreaded letdown this week.
The Texans (8-1) have plenty of reasons to feel overconfident heading into Sunday's game against Jacksonville (1-8). They've won three in a row, remain unbeaten against AFC opponents, and they dominated the Jaguars in Week 2. Jacksonville, meanwhile, has lost six in a row and will face the Texans without Maurice Jones-Drew, who's out for the fourth straight game with a sprained left foot.
Houston arrived home about 5 a.m. on Monday after a 13-6 win in Chicago. Coach Gary Kubiak says his players didn't celebrate the win long, just like it they didn't dwell on their 42-24 loss to Green Bay.
By Wednesday, the big victory over the Bears was forgotten, and the Texans were focused on the Jaguars.
"I think what we've done a good job of is, our guys just understand how important it is to just go to the next week," Kubiak said. "If you sit there and get beat on a given day and you just beat yourself for three or four days and it lingers, it usually goes into the next. You learn to let that go. You have to learn to let big games go, too."
Texans star receiver Andre Johnson says the team has learned to expect success, a fresh attitude for a franchise that's endured its share of struggles and heartbreaking losses over the years. The players set bold goals in the preseason, saying anything short of a Super Bowl berth would feel like a disappointment.
A second straight AFC South title seemed like a foregone conclusion a few weeks ago, but Indianapolis is mounting a surprising challenge after winning four straight games. The Texans, though, are right where they thought they'd be and have learned to treat every game with equal importance, no matter the caliber of the opponent.
"One thing we know is you can't take anybody lightly in this league," Johnson said. "We approach every game the same. We're going to prepare and go out and work hard during the week and get ready for Sunday. You can't look past anybody because anybody could be beaten any Sunday."
Still, it's hard to see how an upset could happen.
The Jaguars have been outscored 82-39 in their last three games and rank last in total offense (263.6 yards per game) and 29th in total defense (389.1 yards per game). Blaine Gabbert has been sacked 21 times and completed only 58 percent of his passes.
Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey is trying to keep a positive vibe and insists his players are close to turning the corner.
"We're going to stay the course," he said. "This is the way things are going to get done. This is the way we're going to win. I think they know that. The staff believes it. They're very resilient. I think they're a mentally tough team. They come in. They're prepared every week. I've been on teams that don't do that. They pay attention to everything that's being said to them and they know it's from the heart. Good things are in sight. I don't know when that is. I hope it's this week."
The Texans were the clearly superior team on Sept. 16, manhandling the Jaguars' defense and setting a franchise record for possession time (43 minutes, 17 seconds). Arian Foster rushed for 110 yards and Houston's offense produced 411 yards and went 8 for 17 on third-down conversions.
Jacksonville mustered 117 yards, in part because the offense only had the ball for 17 minutes. The Jaguars went 0 for 9 on third downs in that game.
Defensive end J.J. Watt had one of his best games that week with 1½ sacks, two pass deflections, a fumble recovery and six tackles. Watt continues to lead the NFL with 10½ sacks and all defensive linemen with 10 passes defensed, despite opposing teams' efforts to double- and triple-team him in recent weeks.
"You start to see more and more attention," Watt said. "As you see, other guys are stepping up and making big plays, which is awesome. That's going to help take attention away from me. I've said it all along, if you want to double-team me that's perfectly fine. You're going to have to deal with 10 other guys who are great playmakers."
While not as overwhelming as it was in that game, Houston's defense has consistently shut down teams every week, with the exception of the Packers. The Texans have held seven opponents below 20 points and are allowing an NFL-low 16 first downs per game.
Watt says the weekly focus has become more about the Texans reaching their own standards than worrying about the opponent.
"We're fully aware of what they're capable of," he said, "but we're also fully aware of what we're capable of. We're going to go out there and play Texans football. We're going to do what we do and just like every single week, we know that if we take care of our business and do what we're capable of, we'll be just fine."
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