HOUSTON — Ready or not, the Houston Texans are less than a week away from the franchise's first playoff game.
The Texans (10-6) will ride a three-game losing streak into Saturday's game against Cincinnati (9-7) at Reliant Stadium.
Last week, Texans players talked about the importance of regaining momentum after consecutive losses. They lost to Tennessee 23-22 in Sunday's finale when they botched a 2-point conversion at the end, then said after the game that their three-game skid was irrelevant.
Coach Gary Kubiak said Monday that his players have "got to let it go," pointing out that a winning streak would've also had no bearing on what may happen in the postseason.
"You've got to let everything go," he said, "and start over."
Kubiak thought the Texans played better Sunday than they had in losses to Carolina and Indianapolis. His team has dealt with major injuries almost every week this season, and he said that's led to constant transition that's affected the level of play.
Add one more injury concern leading up to Saturday's game: Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, who started the last five games, bruised his left shoulder when he was sacked on his first snap against Tennessee. Kubiak expects Yates to start against Cincinnati, though he acknowledged Monday the fifth-round pick is "sore."
Yates was a revelation when he first took over the starting role in the wake of season-ending injuries to Matt Schaub (right foot) and Matt Leinart (broken left collarbone), guiding the Texans to narrow victories over Atlanta and the Bengals to clinch the division.
In Cincinnati on Dec. 11, Yates engineered two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter, rallying Houston for a 20-19 win. Yates struggled in the next two games and played only one series Sunday, but Kubiak says he still has enough confidence to play him over veteran Jake Delhomme.
"He's very young and this is a big, big game," Kubiak said. "But he's the best guy for our team, and if he's able to go and do the things we need him to do in practice, then we'll turn him loose and let him go."
Delhomme, signed out of retirement in late November, relieved Yates on Sunday and completed 18 of 28 passes for 211 yards without an interception.
The 36-year-old Delhomme was seeing his first action since December 2010, when he played for Cleveland. He's one of only a handful of current Texans with playoff experience and the only one who's already played in a postseason game at Reliant Stadium.
Delhomme guided Carolina to its only Super Bowl in February 2004, when the Panthers played Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Delhomme threw for 323 yards and three touchdown in the Panthers' 32-29 loss.
The Panthers had only one postseason victory in their history before that Super Bowl season, and Delhomme thinks inexperience could actually work to Houston's advantage.
"When you don't know any better, to me, that's a great thing," Delhomme said. "If you play well during the season and prepare well, obviously you're one of the better teams at the end of the year. So we just knew that if we just did what we did week in and week out, it would work."
The 2003 Panthers won their last three games, but they lost three in a row just before that, so Delhomme isn't a big believer in needing momentum.
"This is a young, hungry football team that works," Delhomme said of the Texans. "I know I haven't been here long, but last week on that practice field, just watching guys fly around you saw how important it is. This team is going to be ready and sometimes innocence is bliss."
Kubiak isn't sure how much past experience helps in the playoffs, either, but he has plenty of it. He was an assistant coach on three Super Bowl teams, one in San Francisco and two in Denver.
"All those things took place for me somewhere else, on a different team," said Kubiak, Houston's coach since 2006. "I've been growing as a head coach with this group I have, they've been growing with me as a team, so it's our first opportunity together. That's what's most important."
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has participated in his share of playoff games, too. Phillips coached from the press box Sunday, just over two weeks after kidney and gall bladder surgery, and Kubiak says he'll work from the booth again for the playoff game.
"That's a long road back from what he's been through," Kubiak said. "We're just trying to make sure he gets his rest, and he'll be ready to call the game on Saturday once again."