Houston Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson (25) runs back an interception against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Houston. Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith (82) and outside linebacker Whitney Me
David J. Phillip
December 22, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) Just a year after going 2-14, the Houston Texans are still in the playoff hunt entering the final week of the regular season.

Houston (8-7) has to beat Jacksonville and have Baltimore lose to the Browns and the Chiefs beat the Chargers to secure the third postseason berth in franchise history.

''I said at the beginning of the year, I thought we could contend for the playoffs and that's what we're doing,'' team owner Bob McNair said. ''But very few other people felt that way, so yeah it's a big change.''

After the struggles of last season left the Texans with the NFL's worst record after they made the playoffs the previous two seasons, this success is especially sweet.

''It's incredible, especially coming from last year, losing 14 straight and knowing that you're out of it,'' safety D.J. Swearinger said. ''Just taking care of business one game at a time and knowing that you may get in there is good.''

Coach Bill O'Brien, who is in his first season in Houston and first as a head coach in the NFL, is excited for his team's opportunity this week.

''You want to be in this position where the game means something,'' O'Brien said. ''I think the guys will be focused even though it is Christmas (week). This is a very meaningful game.''

They beat the Ravens 25-13 with fourth-string quarterback Case Keenum and a defense led by J.J. Watt which forced three turnovers.

Keenum, whom the Texans released in training camp, was signed from the St. Louis practice squad on Monday when Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Tom Savage were both injured a day before with Ryan Mallett already on injured reserve.

Houston players and coaches were impressed with Keenum's performance with less than a week to prepare for the start.

''It is crazy,'' left tackle Duane Brown said. ''You don't see that. Especially with an offense as complex as the one we run. It asks a lot from the quarterback position. He was here for a while and got to learn a lot of it. His recall was great. He came in and didn't skip a beat.''

O'Brien said Keenum will benefit from having a little more time to prepare this week, but that the extra time won't help that much since preparing for Jacksonville is completely different than getting ready for the Ravens.

He's also focused on making sure his team doesn't take the Jaguars lightly despite their 3-12 record.

''The most important thing about this week is the Jacksonville Jaguars and that we are very, very focused on them,'' O'Brien said. ''Our guys should really not look at their record at all. It's a very tough football team in all three phases.''

Quarterback isn't the only place where Houston has dealt with injuries. Top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, expected to boost Houston's pass rush, missed most of the season because of a knee injury, top cornerback Kareem Jackson missed three games with a sprained knee and linebacker Brian Cushing sat out two games because of a knee problem.

''We just keep it going,'' safety Kendrick Lewis said. ''No matter who is out, it's the next man's turn. We've been doing a great job all season of the next man stepping up and not skipping a beat.''

Houston's defense has played its best two games of the season in the past two weeks and allowed a season-low 33 yards rushing on Sunday. Watt said he thinks the group is starting to excel now that it has had some time to adjust to defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's new system.

''When you have a new staff in place it takes a little bit of time to get everybody on the same page and get an understanding of what you want to accomplish and I think that we are doing a good job of it right now,'' Watt said. ''Obviously we want to go out there again next week and do a good job and play another game like (Sunday).''

The unit has been helped by forcing a franchise-record 34 takeaways this season, which are the most in the NFL. Those takeaways have resulted in 123 points, which are also the most in team history.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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