Following victories last week, the Broncos and Texans look to keep their slim playoff hopes alive when they meet on Thursday night at Reliant Stadium.
The Broncos (6-7) are two games behind AFC West-leading San Diego with three to go. A loss this week coupled with a Chargers win over visiting Detroit would eliminate Denver from the division race.
The Texans (6-7) are out of the AFC South chase, but like the Broncos, still have a remote chance of a wild-card spot. Denver and Houston are two games behind Cleveland for the AFC’s final wild-card spot, but are also a game back of Buffalo and Tennessee. The loser of this game will eliminated from the playoffs if Cleveland beats Buffalo on Sunday at home.
Thursday’s winner, though, will have a slim chance of making the postseason. After this game, the Broncos visit San Diego and then wrap up the regular season against Minnesota, which currently holds the final wild-card spot in the NFC. The Texans, meanwhile, visit Indianapolis, which has the second-best record in the AFC, and concludes the regular season against Jacksonville, which currently has the AFC’s first wild-card spot.
“We’re not worried about anyone else,” Denver tight end Daniel Graham said. “If we don’t take care of our business, nothing is going to happen.”
The Broncos are carrying some momentum into this contest, as they’re coming off a 41-7 victory over Kansas City on Sunday - their most lopsided win since October 2000.
Denver jumped out to a 14-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game, and outgained the Chiefs 453 yards to 129, including a 215-16 edge in rushing.
“It’s a shame that we couldn’t start from Week 1 with this type of explosiveness,” said rookie receiver Brandon Marshall, who caught 10 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. “But everybody has their days and everybody has their seasons. So, hopefully we can keep this thing going and sneak into that playoff hunt. If not, we’ll just take our momentum into the next season.”
Denver’s Jay Cutler completed 20-of-27 passes for 244 yards, a career-high four touchdowns and a career-best passer rating of 141.0. This came one week after he was 16-of-32 for 214 yards with two interceptions and a career-low rating of 45.6 in the Broncos’ 34-20 loss to Oakland on Dec. 2.
“Too little, too late, I don’t know,” Cutler said.
Selvin Young rushed for a career-high 156 yards on 17 carries against the Chiefs, becoming the sixth undrafted rookie in league history to top 500 yards rushing. He has run for 569 yards on just 100 carries for an AFC-best 5.7 yards per attempt, but will be facing Houston’s stingy run defense that has allowed just 118 yards on en route to winning its last two home games.
The Texans have been victorious in three of their last four at home, while the Broncos have dropped four of their last five on the road.
With a 28-14 win over NFC South-leading Tampa Bay last Sunday, Houston is one victory shy of matching the single-season franchise record set in 2004.
The Texans entered the game with a backup quarterback and, after the first series, were relying a rookie with no NFL experience at running back. Still, they helped knock off a Buccaneers team that had won four straight and was attempting to clinch their second division title in three years.
“I am just so proud of the effort of these guys,” said Houston coach Gary Kubiak, who was Denver’s offensive coordinator from 1995-2005. “We’ve got some problems. We’ve got enough guys nicked up to fill a couple of rooms, but the heart of this football team and the direction of the future of the young kids is just so bright.”
Sage Rosenfels finished 27-of-36 for 209 yards with three touchdowns in his second start of the season for Houston. Rosenfels has won both games he’s started in place of the injured Matt Schaub, who will likely be out again this week with an injured shoulder.
Undrafted rookie running back Darius Walker rushed for 46 yards on 16 carries and had 35 yards receiving on Sunday in his first NFL game. He took over for Ron Dayne, who has been hobbled with a tender ankle. Walker is likely to get a bulk of the action again this week.
“He went in there and it was nothing spectacular, but he was very solid,” Kubiak said of Walker, who played at Notre Dame. “I’m proud of the kid. It’s a step forward.”
The Broncos posted a 31-13 home win over Houston on Nov. 7, 2004 in the only previous meeting between the teams.