HOUSTON (AP) — Andre Johnson sometimes has to tell his teammates how lucky they are to be on one of the NFL's best teams.
For years, Johnson languished on terrible Texans teams. Now, the star receiver shares stories of the tough times, a reminder to appreciate this season and keep working for more.
Johnson is the only player currently with Houston (11-1) remaining from its franchise-worst 2-14 season in 2005.
"Enjoy this part of it, because the times that I went through, that's something you don't ever want to experience," he said he tells his teammates of that season. "The season was super long. There were times I didn't want to get up and come to work. It's hard because you come in and you're working your (tail) off, and you just can't get the job done."
Johnson has 1,114 yards receiving to bounce back from an injury-filled 2011 season where he had a career-low 492 yards.
He probably appreciates where the Texans are now better than anyone. Johnson joined the team after being drafted in the first round in 2003, and went through eight seasons of missing the playoffs in a stretch with just one winning season.
There were times he thought about playing elsewhere, but he forced himself to think about the big picture.
"You find out a lot about yourself, if you're going to be loyal or if you're just going to run away from it," he said. "My thing was I wanted to stay. I wanted to be a part of something special. I wanted to help this organization to where it is right now and even help it achieve more."
When Houston finally made the postseason for the first time last year, the moment was bittersweet for the five-time Pro Bowler because he missed a career-high nine games with various injuries.
"I was excited, but at the same time I was down because you're just like: 'Man, I know I could be out there helping the team,'" he said. "Those would be the times that I would kind of get down on myself and try do things and hope that I could hurry up and come back."
Johnson had a groin injury in training camp, and that combined with his age (31) and the nagging injuries that slowed him for a good chunk of last season had some wondering if he could still be an elite receiver.
He had 119 yards receiving in Houston's opener, but didn't crack 100 yards again until Week 9. It was then that Johnson said he was finally starting to feel like himself again, and two weeks later he showed just that.
Johnson grabbed 14 passes for 273 yards — both career-highs — and the winning touchdown in Houston's 43-37 overtime win against Jacksonville. He followed that performance with 188 yards receiving a week later.
He's been so good this season than even those who have watched him for years have been left shaking their heads.
"Every day is a marvel," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said when asked about Johnson. "To me, it's amazing to see somebody work that hard and do that many things because usually you break down or a guy will ask for a day off, but he never does that. I think that's very, very impressive about Andre."
Matt Schaub, who joined the Texans in 2007, said just when he thinks he's seen the best from Johnson, he'll outdo himself. Schaub values Johnson's leadership to the team, and said he can't overstate what he's meant to him individually.
"(He's) the ultimate security blanket," Schaub said. "I know as a quarterback if push comes to shove and we need a play, I know I'm going to go his direction. We see all types of coverages. I'll still go his way because I know he's going to make a play on the football."
Johnson is the most soft-spoken and least talkative player on the team. That hasn't stopped him from being the most important leaders of the squad. But being a leader isn't something that is all that comfortable to Johnson, although he does appreciate that younger players look up to him.
"I've just always been the guy that tries to lead by example," he said. "It's crazy. You'd be surprised at who pays attention to you. I think when you go out and do the right things as a player and just be yourself and be successful at what you do, guys tend to look toward you and come to you for advice and things like that."
Houston has already clinched its second straight playoff berth, but Johnson is quick to point out that these are not the Texans of old, and they're looking for a lot more than simply reaching the playoffs this season.
Johnson needs 86 yards to reach 1,200 yards receiving for the fourth time in his career when the Texans meet the Patriots on Monday night in what Johnson's calls the biggest game in franchise history.
"We still have goals that we have to accomplish," he said. "I think as long as we keep winning, every game is going to get bigger and bigger. When you've been somewhere you've never been before, everything gets bigger."
NOTES: Cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, was limited in practice on Friday and coach Gary Kubiak said they'll make a decision on if he'll play in the next couple of days. But Joseph said he expects to play. "I'm good to go, I don't know a percentage, but I feel like I'm better than ever actually," he said. "So I'm good to go Monday."
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