HOUSTON (AP) _ Mario Williams helped Gary Kubiak look more like the mentor than the protege against the Denver Broncos.
Last year's No. 1 pick had a career-high 3 1/2 sacks Thursday night to lead the Houston Texans to a 31-13 victory over the Broncos in Kubiak's first regular-season matchup with his former boss, Mike Shanahan.
Kubiak was Shanahan's offensive coordinator for 11 seasons before he took over Houston in 2006. Not surprisingly, the Texans' defense often seemed to know what was coming much of the game against the Broncos.
``There's a lot of faces over there I've been through many games with,'' Kubiak said. ``I was thinking today that Mike and I, as a player and coach, have been in over 350 NFL games. That's a lot of ball and I'll always have a lot of respect for what he does.''
The two embraced at midfield and had a brief conversation when the game ended.
``I just said, 'Hey, great job, You got your team ready to play,''' Shanahan said. ``'You outplayed and outcoached us.'''
Turns out Kubiak and Texans management know how to pick a good defensive player when they see one, too.
The Texans (7-7) have been hearing for two years what a mistake they made by drafting Williams over Reggie Bush and Vince Young with the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft.
But Williams was disrupting the offense Kubiak once ran all night and became the Texans' career sacks leader in the process. After wrapping up Jay Cutler for the third time, Williams sashayed like a hula dancer, perhaps lobbying for an invitation to the Pro Bowl.
And why not?
Williams now leads the AFC with 17 1/2 sacks and he's had one in a team-record five straight games.
``That's what I was drafted for,'' he said. ``I feel like I have to be accountable to my teammates and this organization to go out and try to help us win a game and get a winning season.''
Houston tied the franchise record for victories with its seventh of the season. After losing to Young and Tennessee, the Texans have rejuvenated once-remote playoff hopes with two straight wins.
The franchise has never finished above .500 in six seasons of existence.
``I think we still have something else to do,'' Kubiak said. ``I told the kids a while ago, that our football team is 60 minutes from being able to say we're a winning team. To have a season that is a winning season, that's a huge step.''
The Broncos (6-8), meanwhile, were practically conceding that their postseason hopes are dashed after losing for the third time in four games. They were puzzled why they couldn't duplicate their level of play in last week's 41-7 win over Kansas City.
``It'll take a miracle for us to get into the playoffs,'' said Brandon Marshall, who caught 11 passes for 107 yards.
Sage Rosenfels and Ron Dayne had touchdown runs as Houston built a 17-6 lead. The normally subdued Dayne, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1999, celebrated his touchdown by striking the Heisman pose. He had 11 carries for 67 yards.
Tony Scheffler caught a short pass from Cutler and leaped for a touchdown in the final minute of the third quarter to cut it to 17-13. Scheffler was upended at the goal line by Houston cornerback Von Hutchins and fumbled as he came down.
Officials ruled Scheffler broke the plane of the goal line before Hutchins hit him, but Kubiak challenged the call. After review, the play stood.
The Texans answered with a smooth drive that Rosenfels finished off with a short touchdown pass to Andre Johnson.
``We've just been too inconsistent, not playing hard enough and being outplayed and everything,'' Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``Across the board, we just didn't get it done.''
Williams' third sack of Cutler forced the Broncos to punt and the Texans stretched the lead to 31-13 on Vonta Leach's 1-yard run with 3:20 remaining.
The Texans made the most of their first primetime game since 2005.
``We had an opportunity in front of a lot of people,'' Kubiak said. ``We were the only game tonight and that was a little pressure for our guys. Our guys have never been in that situation, but it's a great opportunity for our organization and our kids.''
Cutler was 27-of-39 for 254 yards with one touchdown and was sacked five times.