A win last week over a perennial playoff team may have been the biggest in the Houston Texans’ five-year history. A victory in this week’s season finale would only further build their confidence heading into 2007.
Houston will try to close the season by winning back-to-back games for the first time in two years when they meet the Cleveland Browns at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.
The Texans (5-10) have never ended a regular season on a winning note, and they haven’t won two straight since holding Chicago and Jacksonville to a total of five points in road wins on Dec. 19 and 26, 2004. Houston faced Cleveland the following week looking for its first three-game winning streak, but lost 22-14 at home.
Houston had dropped nine straight to AFC South champion Indianapolis heading into last Sunday’s home game. But Ron Dayne ran for two first-quarter touchdowns and Kris Brown kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter, including a 48-yarder as time expired to give the Texans a 27-24 win.
“This is real big because as an organization we’re building our team right now to beat this team,” Texans safety Jason Simmons said. “They drafted Mario (Williams) to beat this team and for us to get to the next level we’ve got to beat the best team in our division. To finally do it is a sign that we’re getting over the hump.”
Dayne, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner from Wisconsin who’s playing for his third team in three seasons, overcame an injured ankle to set career highs with 32 carries for 153 yards against the worst run defense in the league.
“It was real sore,” said Dayne, who leads the Texans with 612 rushing yards. “I just kept going out there and every time I’d run and somebody might fall on it, I would come out. Then I would just go back out there even without them telling me to. I just wasn’t going to be denied today.”
Dayne has scored all five of his touchdowns in the last four games, a stretch during which he’s averaged 4.8 yards per carry. His 429 rushing yards since Dec. 3 are seventh-most in the league and more than Edgerrin James (398), reigning MVP Shaun Alexander (379), Tiki Barber (348) and Jamal Lewis (267).
Dayne would need another record-setting effort to set a new personal best for one season. As a rookie with the Giants in 2000, he ran for 770 yards. Dayne also needs two rushing touchdowns to match his single-season career high, set with the Giants in 2001 when he had seven.
The Browns have the 30th-ranked run defense, allowing 145.3 yards per game.
Texans quarterback David Carr bounced back from one of his worst games as a pro with a serviceable effort. Carr was picked off a career-high four times in a 40-7 defeat to New England on Dec. 17, but didn’t throw an interception in the win over the Colts as he went 16-of-23 for 163 yards and a touchdown.
Carr has 11 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions this season - he hasn’t had a season with more interceptions than TDs since 2003.
Cleveland (4-11), wrapping up its second season under coach Romeo Crennel, has already been assured a worse record than its 6-10 mark in 2005.
Crennel said Tuesday that third-stringer and former University of Miami star Ken Dorsey would start the finale. Starter Charlie Frye hasn’t played since suffering a bone bruise on his right wrist in a 31-28 win over Kansas City on Dec. 3, and backup Derek Anderson threw four interceptions before separating his shoulder in a 22-7 loss to Tampa Bay last Sunday.
“We didn’t play very well on Sunday in any particular phase,” Crennel said.
Anderson rallied the Browns to the win over the Chiefs after replacing Frye, but failed to lead them to a win after that. That leaves Dorsey, who’s thrown eight touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in two seasons with San Francisco.
It’s uncertain if Crennel will start wide receiver Braylon Edwards in the finale. Edwards, who leads the team with 838 receiving yards and six touchdowns, didn’t start against the Bucs and Crennel again said it was a coach’s decision.
Edwards did not enter the game until the second quarter, dropped the first pass thrown his way and finished with two catches for seven yards.
The Browns are 2-1 all-time against the Texans, losing 19-16 in the last meeting on Oct. 30, 2005.