- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

There’s no arguing Houston is football country. But five years into their existence, the Texans are 18-48 and one of just three NFL franchises not to have a winning season during that span.

“[Our fans] love football, but they want to win,” said quarterback David Carr, the first draft choice in Texans history and the starter in all but five of their games. “I’m getting tired of losing, too. There was definitely something that had to be done [after Houston crashed from 7-9 in 2004 to 2-14 last season]. By the fifth year of this franchise, we should be winning.”

Instead, Houston is 0-2 heading into tomorrow’s game with Washington after whippings by Philadelphia (24-10) and Indianapolis (43-24). The Texans have allowed the most points, yards and first downs, and first-year coach Gary Kubiak’s offense hasn’t been much better.

“We’ve got some tough times here and we’re struggling,” said Kubiak, who took over in January following the firing of original Texans coach Dom Capers. “That same group of guys for the most part struggled, too, last year and we’re trying to fight out of it.”

The Texans are waging that fight with 11 new starters, nine of whom are new to the team including defensive end Mario Williams, the No.1 overall pick in April’s draft. Four more rookies are starting. Other than the veteran offensive line, only two starters — receiver Eric Moulds and defensive tackle Seth Payne — have turned 30.

But unlike most expansion teams, the Texans haven’t had a revolving door. Capers and original general manager Charley Casserly lasted the first four seasons. Ten of the current 53 players — led by Carr, Payne and starting offensive linemen Steve McKinney and Chester Pitts — also were in Houston for the 2002 debut. The Redskins — 28-38 with one playoff appearance during that span — have just seven players left from 2002.

Houston has changed coaches and systems, but Carr is still taking a pounding. Sacked a staggering 208 times during his first four seasons, he has gone down nine times already this year.

“The Eagles got after [Giants quarterback Eli Manning] eight times … the other day,” Carr said. “It’s not like we were playing teams that couldn’t rush the passer. Indianapolis is known for that.”

Though three of Houston’s touchdowns have come in the fourth quarter with the outcome no longer in doubt, Carr has overcome the sacks to rank third in the NFL with a 123.7 passer rating. He has thrown four touchdowns with no interceptions and finally might be ready to fulfill his potential after four middling seasons.

Kubiak, who arrived in Denver with fellow rookie quarterback John Elway in 1983 and wound up coaching the Hall of Famer during his final four seasons, wants Carr to become a leader of that caliber.

“David has stood in here week in and week out and played,” Kubiak said. “He’s a tough and talented kid. We have to build a team around him that helps him get better. My challenge to him is to step above and beyond the call of duty. David’s going to have to become a great player for this franchise to start to make strides. He has gotten better, but he still has a long way to go.”

So does Williams, whose selection over Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush and national title-winning quarterback Vince Young of Texas raised eyebrows in the media and ire among Houston fans. So far, Williams has five tackles, no sacks and no hurries.

Redskins center Casey Rabach said Williams looks great on some plays and lost on others. Carr has advised his teammate on dealing with the pressure of sky-high expectations. But Kubiak, who had Carr and mistakenly thought two-time 1,000-yard runner Domanick Davis would be healthy, isn’t second-guessing the pick.

“If you can’t play defense in this league week in and week out, you are going to struggle,” Kubiak said. “Mario is going to be a great player that we will be able to build our defense around.”

But like everything else with the Texans, it will take time.

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