HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Texans aren't content with their accomplishments after clinching their second straight playoff berth over the weekend.
They plan to build on their franchise-best 11-1 start to improve their playoff position. The Texans are also dealing with mounting injuries in the secondary and to their linebackers.
``Now every time we step to the plate we can probably gain something else,'' coach Gary Kubiak said. ``So we just have to stay focused on that. Our last month is going to be difficult, but when it's difficult, that's what gives you the best chance to prepare to be a good football team in January.''
The first step is a Monday night matchup at New England. They'll have to face Tom Brady and the Patriots without cornerback Brice McCain, who will be placed on injured reserve list/designated for return after surgery to repair a broken left foot Monday.
Kubiak is concerned about facing a top quarterback with an injury-riddled and inexperienced secondary.
``Well it's Monday and it's scary so I'm sure it's going to be real scary getting toward the end of the week,'' he said only half-jokingly. ``We know we're going to play a great player and one of the top passing games in the business for a long, long time. It's a challenge.''
McCain, who has appeared in each game with two starts, is Houston's nickel cornerback. He was injured in the first half of the win at Tennessee on Sunday. By being placed on the designated to return list he must sit out eight weeks, which means the earliest he could play is if the Texans reach the Super Bowl.
Brandon Harris, a second-year player out of Miami, will fill in for McCain. Harris has seen limited action this season, appearing in just four games. They'll also look to fellow second-year player Roc Carmichael to help replace McCain.
``I liked what I saw from Brandon and Roc (Sunday),'' Kubiak said. ``Brandon's very competitive, has a lot of confidence ... and that's what you're looking for. They've got to rise to the occasion, and we can sure help them if we can rush the passer like we did (Sunday).''
The Texans bounced back from a pair of weak defensive performances to sack Jake Locker six times Sunday. Kubiak said the unit was helped by the return of nose tackle Shaun Cody, who missed the previous three games with a back injury. Another key to success was the development of linebacker Darryl Sharpton. Sharpton sat out the first nine games this season after tearing his right quadriceps last October.
``Getting Shaun Cody back gave us some versatility inside and took some snaps off some players, and we got our pass rush back,'' Kubiak said. ``I think a couple of things going on there helped us get back to playing our kind of football defensively. I think Sharpton's more comfortable, this is three games he has under his belt. And he's going to have to be, because he's going to be big going down the stretch here.''
Houston will be without linebacker Brooks Reed for another few weeks as he recovers from a groin injury. But the Texans could get several injured players back this week. Kubiak said starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, and linebacker Bradie James, out last week with a hamstring injury, will be listed as day to day this week.
Cornerback Alan Ball, who started for Joseph two weeks ago, also missed the Titans game with a sore foot, but should be ready for Monday night's game. Kubiak said the team is looking at their options in the secondary and could possibly add a player because they can't be as thin in that area as they were Sunday down the stretch.