As if trying to avoid the longest losing streak in team history isn't tough enough, the Houston Texans must attempt to do so without their coach and perhaps their star running back as well.
With ailing Gary Kubiak out indefinitely and running back Arian Foster sidelined, the visiting Texans look to avoid a seventh straight defeat Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
Kubiak collapsed while suffering a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, while jogging off the field at halftime of Houston's 27-24 loss to Indianapolis last Sunday night. Without their coach, the Texans were outscored 24-3 in the second half en route to matching the club record for consecutive losses.
The 52-year-old Kubiak was released from the hospital Tuesday and is expected to make a full recovery, but when he will return to the field remains uncertain.
"I've been through an ordeal and my focus now is to get back to good health," Kubiak said in a statement released by the team.
Serving as interim coach, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will try to help the Texans end a disastrous slide during which they've scored 20 or more points twice and allowed an average of 28.7.
Houston yielded 19.0 points per contest while going 22-10 and winning the AFC South the previous two seasons.
"It's been frustrating, especially after the past two seasons and the expectations," receiver Andre Johnson said. "But if you don't go out and play the way you're supposed to play you're not going to win. And we didn't do that so that's why we haven't been winning ... somehow some way we've got to go out and fix the mistakes we've been making and try to win a game."
After topping the 100-yard receiving mark twice and not scoring over the first seven games, Johnson caught nine passes for 229 yards and three TDs against the Colts.
Case Keenum has been a nice surprise for Houston, throwing for 621 yards with four TDs and no interceptions in two starts since replacing the benched Matt Schaub. However, the Texans have managed one touchdown while being outscored 94-19 after the first half of the last six games.
Keenum won't be handing the ball off to Foster, who departed after Houston's first possession last Sunday with a back injury. Foster, who has rushed for 542 yards, left the Texans' previous game at Kansas City on Oct. 20 with a hamstring injury after running for 11 yards on four carries.
Backup Ben Tate rushed for 81 yards on a season-high 22 carries against the Colts despite dealing with four broken ribs, and he'll start in Foster's place.
After giving up 284 yards on the ground in consecutive losses to San Francisco and Seattle, Arizona (4-4) held Atlanta to 27 during a 27-13 victory in its most recent contest Oct. 27.
The victory took the Cardinals into the bye week, and they've come out refreshed and confident.
"We take a short-term look at long goals and then get back to the process of making sure we win this Sunday and forget about adding things up," coach Bruce Arians said. "We'll add them up in late December."
Rookie Andre Ellington ignited a running game that averaged 77.7 yards through seven games by rushing 15 times for 154 of the team's season-high 201 yards on the ground. He scored on an 80-yard run to help the Cardinals avoid a third straight loss.
Ellington has a team-high 333 rushing yards and averages 7.7 per carry, but he could share time if Rashard Mendenhall is ready to return after missing the last game with a toe injury.
"You want to have that one-two punch," Arians said. "Andre's kind of got his role cut out. We'd like to, as I said last week, hopefully get him into space a couple of more times in the ball game."
Mendenhall has three TDs, but has not rushed for more than 66 yards in a game this season. He's gained 53 and scored once on 19 carries in two games against the Texans.
Arizona star Larry Fitzgerald has been limited to six catches for 65 yards with a TD in two games since recording a season-high 117 on six receptions in the 32-20 loss to the 49ers on Oct. 13. He had 11 catches for 164 yards and three TDs as the Cardinals split their two previous games with Houston.
Fitzgerald and Johnson each scored two touchdowns during Arizona's 28-21 home victory over the Texans in their most recent meeting Oct. 11, 2009.