Texans go for three in a row vs. Broncos

Saturday, November 6th 2004, 12:15 pm
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) _ Two teams come into this weekend's game full of confidence. For the Houston Texans, that makes sense. For the Denver Broncos, it's hard to imagine why.

Winners of four of their last five and shooting for the first three-game winning streak in franchise history, the Texans (4-3) are turning into one of the NFL's most promising young teams.

Can they handle the growing expectations? Some answers should come Sunday against the struggling Broncos (5-3).

``It'll test our maturity because we're not really used to winning a lot of games in a row,'' Texans tight end Billy Miller said. ``This is a must-win game for them and a must-win game for us, so it really should be a challenge.''

The Broncos have fallen dramatically since they defeated Oakland 31-3 to improve to 5-1 and take a two-game lead in the AFC West.

In the past two weeks, Denver has lost two games by 13 points each. Jake Plummer has thrown five interceptions. The defense has shown an alarming penchant to get beat deep. John Lynch has gotten injured. The two-game lead has turned into a tie with the San Diego Chargers.

Yet if there's reason for concern, it's not being heard around Broncos headquarters.

``It'll take more than two losses to ruin our confidence,'' linebacker Al Wilson said.

``It's not a big deal,'' coach Mike Shanahan said.

What is a big deal is the fact that the Broncos are on the verge of losing three straight for the third straight season. In the last two seasons, Shanahan's team has gotten off to a strong start, then fallen to around .500 with a midseason slump.

There's a universal feeling in the locker room that this year's team is different.

``This is one of the best teams I've been around, relative to character and how they handle themselves and how hard they work,'' Shanahan said.

Still, there are problems.

After a stellar start, the Denver defense has given up nine plays of 25 yards or more in the last two games _ not what they expected when they revamped and brought in Champ Bailey.

Meanwhile, Plummer has been erratic. His three interceptions last week against Atlanta more than nullified his 499-yard performance, the most prolific in Broncos history.

Not surprisingly, the quarterback is not concerned.

``Mentally, you've got to be strong,'' he said. ``That's what it is. My confidence is high. I feel great about what I can do and still accomplish for this team.''

The Texans have been on top of their game for more than a month now. They're above .500 at the latest point in their three years, and it could have been even better: Houston's only loss in that stretch came to Minnesota in overtime.

``Two years ago, we went into a game expecting to win,'' Miller said. ``But when things would not go our way, we'd get down a little, especially on the road. It just wasn't the same feeling we have now.''

On offense, David Carr is becoming the player the Texans expected when they used the first pick in the 2002 draft on him. With 1,917 yards, he's on pace to throw for 4,000. His 99.7 passer rating ranks fourth in the AFC.

``I'm just enjoying the guys I have out there and the comfort I have in the offense is unmatched to what I've had before,'' said Carr, listed as probable with a sore ankle.

Houston hasn't allowed a touchdown in six quarters. In the last two wins, against Tennessee and Jacksonville, the Texans have made six interceptions, compared to three all season for Denver.

The big question is, with things going so well, how will they handle success?

``We haven't had to handle much of it around here, so it's probably still yet to be seen,'' coach Dom Capers said. ``I always think that's the biggest challenge. You can't ever relax and feel as though you've arrived. I don't think there's that feeling on our team. We haven't had enough success yet to feel that way.''