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Foster and Johnson give Texans balanced attack

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Foster and Johnson give Texans balanced attack

HOUSTON (AP) Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is thankful every day to be working for the Texans.

He's in charge of a unit that has both the AFC's leading receiver and leading rusher in Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. Johnson has 1,360 yards receiving, Foster 1,313 yards rushing.

``It makes the defense defend a lot,'' Dennison said. ``They put an extra guy down in the box to stop the run, we think we have the people to throw it well and a quarterback that distributes it well. They play back, we think we can do enough offensively running the ball ... that we can find some holes.''

Foster and Johnson give the Texans a balanced attack they believe will be critical as they move closer to the playoffs. A win on Sunday against the Vikings will give the AFC South champion Texans (12-2) both a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Johnson has bounced back from an injury-plagued season where he had a career-low 492 yards receiving. He believes Houston's success in the passing game comes as a byproduct of its dominant running game.

``When (coach Gary Kubiak) brought in this style of offense, whenever the run game is going, it just opens up everything else,'' Johnson said. ``I think that's the biggest thing for us is just getting our run game going. When we do that, we tend to win a lot of games.''

Kubiak doesn't like it when he has to rely too much on one dimension of his offense. He loved the way the Texans played in Sunday's win over the Colts when they had 178 yards rushing and 239 yards passing.

``We want to be balanced,'' Kubiak said. ``When we're doing those type of things, we're usually staying on the field and helping our defense.''

While Johnson credited the running game led by Johnson for the success of the passing game, Foster said Johnson has helped make things easier for him. He said having Johnson healthy has allowed them to use play-action with much more success.

``Dre has been hurt the last couple years so we kind of missed that,'' Foster said. ``But you see exactly how dangerous he could be when he's healthy ... he's going to continue to put up big performances for us because that's what he does.''

Houston's running game ranks fifth in the league and is averaging 141.9 yards. The passing game piles up an average of 244.8 yards to give the Texans the NFL's sixth-most potent offense.

Left tackle Duane Brown has enjoyed watching what the pair has been able to do this season, and says when they're both playing this well it makes things difficult for defenses.

``Teams are puzzled,'' Brown said. ``They don't know who to stop, if they want to put eight in the box (or) if they want to double-team Dre. It's so much that you have to focus on. It opens up things for them as well as for our other weapons on offense.''

Johnson has played with a chip on his shoulder this season after critics questioned whether the 31-year-old could still be a dominant receiver after his tough season in 2011.

``I think a lot of people wrote me off,'' Johnson said. ``I'm not going to say any names. I think a lot of people just wrote me off with saying that I had lost a step and this and that. But I knew what I needed to do to get myself back to feeling the way I'm feeling now.''

His 1,360 yards receiving are already the third-most in his career and his 14 receptions for 273 yards on Nov. 18 against Jacksonville were both career highs. With just seven receptions he'll become the fifth receiver in NFL history to reach 100 catches in four seasons.

With 140 yards receiving he would become the third player in league history to have at least three seasons with 1,500 yards receiving, joining Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison.

Quarterback Matt Schaub isn't surprised that Johnson is having such a productive season as a 10-year veteran - but he is impressed.

``He just continues to go out there and produce,'' Schaub said. ``When we need a big game from him he always seems to be there to do it. It doesn't surprise me. It's great to know that I can be a part of it.''

NOTES: Kubiak said LB Brooks Reed, who has missed the last three games with a groin injury, looked good in practice Thursday and should play on Sunday. ... Houston released RB Jonathan Grimes on Thursday.

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Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

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Wolfpack overcomes 10-minute scoring drought to top Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- D.J. Funderburk scored 14 points before fouling out and North Carolina State overcame a second-half scoring drought of more than 10 minutes in a 53-51 victory against Virginia on Monday night.

C.J. Bryce added 13 points for the Wolfpack (14-5, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), including a jumper with 27 seconds left after allowing the shot clock to race to near 0:00. The victory ended an eight-game losing streak against the Cavaliers.

Viginia (12-6, 4-4) used a 15-0 run during the N.C. State scoring drought that lasted 10:13 to take a 46-42 lead, bringing the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena back into the game. But Jericole Hellems hit a 3-pointer for N.C. State with 3:38 left and, after a free throw by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, Markell Johnson hit a 3-pointer and then Hellems' putback gave the Wolfpack a 50-47 lead.

Johnson and Bryce both missed the front end of one-and-one free throw opportunities, and Kihei Clark hit a pair for Virginia. Braxton Beverly made the first and missed the second for the Wolfpack with 7.2 seconds left, and the Cavaliers Casey Morsell was short on a contested 3 at the buzzer.

Clark led Virginia with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Wolfpack had used an 8-0 run to go ahead 42-31. Virginia helped out by going scoreless for more than 6 1/2 minutes. Francisco Caffaro, who had just been inserted into the game, ended the drought with 11:13 left.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The Wolfpack seemed on their way to a solid victory until the drought, during which they were 1 for 8 from the field with five turnovers and repeatedly let the shot clock run down into single digits, forcing bad shots.

Virginia: In the Cavaliers' continuing search for scoring help, freshman Casey Morsell had as many as three field goals for the first time since a 65-56 victory against Navy on Dec. 29. He was 4 for 20 from the field in his last five games. He finished the night 4 for 9 and his buzzer-beater attempt was closely guarded.

UP NEXT

The Wolfpack remains on the road and plays at Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The Cavaliers go on the road and play at Wake Forest on Sunday.

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Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

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