Thursday, October 28, 2004

After winning just nine of its first 34 games, Houston has turned the corner. The Texans have won three of four to reach .500 after Week2 for the first time in their three seasons. Their only loss in the last month came in overtime against NFC North leader Minnesota.

Houston coach Dom Capers relied on defense to direct Carolina to the NFC Championship game in just its second season back in 1996, but third-year quarterback David Carr and second-year receiver Andre Johnson are the backbone of the surging Texans, who have set a franchise scoring record in both of their last two games.

Carr, the first draft pick in franchise history, proved his toughness by enduring an NFL-record 76 sacks as a rookie. Despite being sacked just 15 times in 12 games last year, his production didn’t improve. However, Carr is fulfilling his promise this season. He’s third in the AFC in passer rating (97.8) and passing yards (1,641).

“Our team is maturing,” Capers said. “We’re throwing the ball up the field better, and we continue to make big plays.”

No AFC receiver is making more big plays than Johnson, Houston’s first choice in the 2003 draft. Johnson has an AFC-high 591 yards, including four touchdowns. Johnson’s numbers through 22 career games: 99 catches, 1,567 yards and eight touchdowns.

“Andre has been terrific from the start,” Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. “David’s stats might not have shown it, but you could see his progression last year. He always had the ability. The difference is that now we’re seeing the results.”

After opening losses to San Diego and Detroit that no longer seem so disappointing with the Chargers and Lions a combined 8-5, Houston’s turnaround began with a 24-21 victory at Kansas City, where the Chiefs had won 13 of their previous 15. After a 30-17 whipping of Oakland and the 34-28 loss at Minnesota, the Texans beat Houston’s old team, the Titans, for the first time in five tries. The Texans rank just 26th on defense, but they intercepted the Titans four times in a 20-10 victory.

At the polls — Residents in Arlington, Texas, and metro Kansas City will vote Tuesday on stadium ballot initiatives.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is pushing hard for a 90,000-seat palace to replace 33-year-old Texas Stadium. Coach Bill Parcells and past Cowboys heroes Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith have appeared in commercials touting the half-cent sales tax boost that would pay half of the stadium’s $650million price tag, with the Cowboys anteing up the rest. The proposal is expected to pass narrowly.

The Chiefs and baseball Royals are asking for $180million each to update and enhance their adjoining facilities, both of which are more than 30 years old. Although voters approved a new downtown arena just three months ago in hopes of luring NBA and NHL teams to town, the stadium proposal is expected to be go down because this tax will come out of local pockets, not those of visitors via surcharges on hotels and rental cars.

While the question is on the ballot in five counties in Missouri and Kansas, it will be defeated if voters in the city and its two nearest suburban jurisdictions don’t approve it. If the measure is approved, the teams’ leases would be extended 14 years to 2029.

Front-runners — Philadelphia, the NFC’s only unbeaten team, has trailed for only 15:54 this season thanks in part to a 62-17 margin in the first quarter. The Eagles have scored on at least 40 percent of their possessions in all six games and have 11 touchdowns in 18 red zone visits.

The 100-yard days by receivers Terrell Owens and Todd Pinkston last Sunday against Cleveland were the first by a pair of Eagles in 12 years, and Owens is the first Eagle with four straight 100-yard games in 21 years.

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