I took quite a bit of ribbing about the column I wrote during the Labor Day weekend with the headline “This Should Be the Texans’ Big Year” where I predicted the Houston Texans would win the AFC South Division title.

I was accused of doing some mighty wishful thinking and being a cheerleader for our nearest NFL franchise and the ONLY one that have NEVER been to the playoffs . “Nobody takes that title away from the Indianapolis Colts,” an ardent NFL fan pointed out.

At that time Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning’s health status was up in the air and unknown and the word out was that he would miss the first couple of games and would be ready to go by mid-September.

But I realized that Head Coach Gary Kubiak came within a whisker of being fired by owner Bob McNair and he had to get the Texans into the playoffs this year or he would be gone. Kubiak beefed up the offensive line with some veteran players and picked up a couple of top-rated defensive backs.

I never would have gone out on a limb with my prediction if I knew then that Mario Williams’s season would end in early October, wide receiver Andre Johnson would miss more than half the games with hamstring problems and that All-Pro quarterback Matt Schaub and his backup Matt Leinart would go on injured reserve in consecutive weeks.

What I did realize was that the Texans never really played up to their full potential, started each game slowly and then came on strong in the second half only to barely lose in the final minutes because of a stupid penalty, fumble or interception. And I knew for a fact that bringing in Orange native Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator was a gigantic plus.

In fact Houston appeared to be heading right back to mediocrity after the first six games with a 3-3 start when they magically turned things around and went on their current seven-game winning streak, jumping out to early leads and putting the opponent away in the second half.
And it didn’t matter whether Schaub, Leinart or third-string rookie T. J. Yates was at quarterback, the team made a concerted effort to eliminate stupid mistakes and turnovers and played as a smooth-running unit both offensively and on defense. The results have been stunning.

Last weekend the Texans traveled to Cincinnati to play the Bengals, who were fighting for a wild card berth in the upcoming playoffs. And it was only Yates’ second start as an NFL quarterback and his first away from Reliant Stadium.

A Houston win coupled with a Tennessee Titans’ loss to New Orleans would give the Texans the AFC South championship. It would be their first trip to the playoffs since the Oilers won the AFC Central in 1993.

The first half looked like the Texans had reverted back to their old ways of making mistakes and falling behind early. Two turnovers resulted in 10 Cincinnati points as the Bengals led 16-3 at halftime.

But Phillips made a few adjustments to the defense during the intermission and the Bengals managed only three points and 81 yards in the second half against the NFL’s second-ranked defense.

And while the defense was doing its job, Yates was leading a comeback. Texans linebacker Connor Barwin sacked Bengals’ rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Brooks Reed at the Cincy 17. Yates fired a six-yard TD pass to tight end Joel Dreessen.

The Texans still trailed 19-10 going into the final quarter and Yates took them on two long scoring drives, the first one for 83 yards that resulted in a Neil Rackers’ 33-yard field goal.
Yates got the ball back with 2:33 left in the game, the Texans behind 19-13 with 80 yards to go and no time outs remaining. The 24-year-old fifth-round draft choice went to work, connecting on a third-and-three with tight end Owen Daniels, who made an incredible one-handed catch to keep the drive alive.

On a third-and-15 Yates was unable to find an open receiver and took off with 44 seconds left and scrambled 17 yards to the Bengals’ 23 for a fresh set of downs.

He quickly spiked the ball to stop the clock and then threw incomplete over the middle.
His pass intended for Jacoby Jones fell incomplete, but Bengals’ Pacman Jones was called for pass interference, giving Houston a first-and-goal at the six with 12 seconds remaining. Yates threw incomplete with :08 seconds left and Cincy took a time out.

And then the play that will go down in history occurred when Yates fired a bullet over the middle to Kevin Walter who grabbed it for the touchdown to tie the score at 19-all with :02 left. Rackers’ extra point won it for Houston 20-19.

Kubiak was impressed. “It did not look like we had any chance of getting out of here with a win,” the sixth-year head coach opined to the Houston Chronicle after the game. “But we have a young quarterback who believes in what he’s doing. He’s a great player. There’s nothing he can’t do.”

The win gave Houston franchise-records for a season (10) and consecutive victories (7) with games remaining against Carolina at Reliant Stadium Sunday, at Indianapolis and back home for the final regular-season game with Tennessee. The Texans are assured of at least one playoff game at home.

Now the big question facing Kubiak is whether to continue to play hard for a first-round bye or to rest some of the ailing regulars, like many teams opt to do. Yates needs as much work as he can get, yet the Texans may want to turn over a portion of the final three games to veteran quarterbacks Jake Delhomme or Jeff Garcia.

KWICKIES…Undefeated (13-0) and top-seeded Sam Houston State will face Montana 7 p.m. Friday at Huntsville in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinal playoff game after ripping Montana State 49-13 in the quarterfinals last weekend. The winner of this game will play the winner between Georgia Southern and North Dakota State in the FCS championship game.

This Korner is happy that Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3) won this year’s Heisman Trophy. His performance in the Bears’ upset victory over Oklahoma and then Texas locked the award up for the talented signal-caller.

The Baltimore Ravens, with their 24-10 victory over winless Indianapolis Sunday, extended their winning streak at home this season to seven games. The Ravens have one home game remaining—against the Cleveland Browns—so look for the streak to go to 8.

The New York Jets have won five of their last seven games, including three in a row with their 37-10 victory over Kansas City Sunday. None of their last five opponents has a winning record.
There are some familiar names of high schools involved in this weekend’s state championship games—Class 5A Div. I (South Lake Carroll) Div. II (Cibolo Steele); Class 4A Div. I (Lake Travis); Class 3A Div. II (Wimberley); Class 2A Div. II (Refugio); Class 1A Div. II (Tenaha).

JUST BETWEEN US…It looks like Milwaukee Brewers’ star Ryan Braun will have his back up against the wall after testing positive for a substance prohibited under Major League Baseball’s drug policy. MLB’s drug policy states that a player cannot simply deny that he intentionally used a prohibited substance, but that he “must provide objective evidence in support of his denial.” If the positive test is upheld, MLB will announce a 50-game suspension for Braun which would start at the beginning of the 2012 season. Baseball has never lost an arbitration case of this kind.