NFL Team Report - Houston Texans - INSIDE SLANT
Former Texans coach Gary Kubiak returns to NRG Stadium on Sunday for the first time since he was fired by Texans owner Bob McNair with three games remaining in the 2013 season.
Baltimore Ravens are 9-5, with four victories in their last five games. The Texans are 7-7, with one victory in their last three games.
Kubiak is in his first season as Baltimore's offensive coordinator, and the offense has made tremendous strides.
Last year, the Ravens were 25th in points, 29th in yards and 30th in yards rushing. Under Kubiak, the Ravens are eighth in scoring (26.9 points), 10th in offense (372 yards) and fifth in rushing (132.6).
"I've got a lot of love for Kube," running back Arian Foster said. "Kube is my guy. He was part of the regime that gave me my first start here (2009). He believed in me. I always got a lot of love for him. I owe him a lot. We had some great times here, so nothing but love for Kube."
Kubiak spent almost eight full seasons with the Texans, leading them to AFC South titles and playoff victories after the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Then they collapsed under a plethora of injuries and a poor performance from their quarterbacks to finish with a league-worst 2-14 record last season.
McNair reacted to harsh criticism of Kubiak from fans and media by firing him and hiring Bill O'Brien.
"That's just the way football goes," Foster said. "Fans want people's head on a stick, and then when everything goes great they'll carry you off into the sunset. That's just the way this game is set up.
"He knows that and understands that, so he doesn't have any hard feelings about that, either. It's just part of the deal in professional sports. When you win, everything is perfect. When you lose, it's all your fault. He was the head (coach) here, so being a leader, you have to take that responsibility. We all did being a part of that regime."
If the Ravens defeat the Texans and Cleveland, they'll finish 11-5. If the Texans upset the Ravens and beat Jacksonville, they'll finish 9-7, so both teams have something on the line.
But for Kubiak, returning to his hometown and coaching in front of family, friends, fans and former players, the game will mean a lot more.
"I think it'll mean everything," said Ravens tight end Owen Daniels, who spent the last eight seasons with the Texans. "Obviously, for this team to go in there and take care of business -- to keep our playoff hopes on track -- that's the biggest thing.
"And then it's just a little icing on top for (Kubiak). He did so much to turn that organization around. We didn't leave there on a great note. Last season wasn't what we wanted, but he sure changed the culture around there in terms of everyone in that building being focused on winning. He deserves a lot of credit for that. For him to go back -- and, hopefully, we can take care of business -- that will be huge."
SERIES HISTORY: 8th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 6-1, including 3-1 at NRG Stadium. The Texans lost at Baltimore last season. They've met once in the playoffs, with the Ravens winning at home during the 2011 season.
NFL Team Report - Houston Texans - NOTES, QUOTES
--Coach Bill O'Brien said he's not going to announce who's starting at quarterback, but it's expected to be Case Keenum, who was signed off St. Louis' practice squad on Monday.
Thad Lewis would be the backup. The Texans signed Ricky Stanzi for the practice squad.