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Texans, Colts try to build momentum heading into offseason

December 28, 2017

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2017, file photo, Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore (23) runs past Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack (44) for a short gain during the first half of an NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla. On Wednesday, Gore and teammate Adam Vinatieri acknowledged they would each like to play another season, meaning Sunday's season finale against Houston won't become a retirement party. "I know I still can play, and I know I want to help a team," Gore said. "I don't want to just be part of a team, I want to help a team, and I don't want anyone to say I rode the bench to get a ring." (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Houston and Indianapolis head into Sunday’s season finale facing the same plight.

With the playoffs out of reach and speculation swirling about the job status of both coaches, they know changes are coming. They’re just not sure how deep they will cut.

So the Texans and Colts will spend the last day of this season trying to snap long losing streaks and take a little momentum into a potentially tumultuous offseason. And that, of course, means winning still matters.

“The main thing is you try to go finish strong and try to put great film out there, especially for the younger guys who want to continue playing, and especially for myself,” said 34-year-old running back Frank Gore , who can become a free agent in March. “I just want to win, I don’t care who it is.”

On paper, the stakes seem minuscule.

Indy (3-12) has lost six straight, the longest skid of coach Chuck Pagano’s six seasons, and is locked into a top-three draft choice. Seventeen players will finish this season on injured reserve, including Andrew Luck, who never played this season.

The season has been so challenging that many now believe a third consecutive postseason absence will end Pagano’s tenure in Indy. But he has somehow managed to get Indy’s undermanned roster to play hard week after week, and there’s no reason to doubt they will against the Texans (4-11).

“It’s our last ride together,” Pagano said, perhaps previewing his own expectations about changes. “We’re going to enjoy and embrace every single second of it and get obsessed with completion. That’s what successful people do — they get obsessed with completion. We need to complete this season. No better way than to go out with a win.”

Houston hasn’t had it any easier.

The Texans have lost five in a row, eight of nine, and don’t even have a first-round draft pick in April. Houston sent its selection to Cleveland to take Deshaun Watson at No. 12 overall last spring. Watson is now recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee, and his injury coincided with Houston’s subsequent collapse.

Some are calling for the ouster of coach Bill O’Brien even though players, including Watson, believe O’Brien should get another chance.

“The last couple of weeks we haven’t done a good job of helping him (O’Brien) out,” quarterback T.J. Yates said.

Will those lobbying efforts be enough to save Pagano or O’Brien with fan bases clamoring for meaningful wins?

Those decisions are likely to come Sunday night or Monday morning. But until then, the goal remains unchanged: win.

“They’re paying us to go out there and play hard and to coach well, and you’re getting handed a paycheck to go coach and play, so it’s your job,” O’Brien said. “It’s your duty to the National Football League, it’s your duty to your teammates, it’s your duty to the Houston Texans to go out there and play very hard. Our guys will do that.”

Here are some other things to watch Sunday:

THE POSTGAME SPEECHES: The first inkling Pagano, O’Brien and the players know what’s coming could come during postgame news conferences. In previous years, coaches have dropped hints or gotten emotional in the aftermath of what they thought could be their final game. Expect more of that this weekend, and not just in Indy.

While the rest of the league remembers Jim Mora’s “playoffs” rant, Colts fans also remember Mora punching the backdrop screen and tearing up just before he was fired following the 2001 season

THE NUMBERS: As the season winds down, statistical goals take on greater significance and there will be plenty of intrigue in this game.

Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins needs four catches for his second 100-reception season. Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, last year’s NFL champion in yards receiving, is 48 yards away from his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

Houston running back Lamar Miller, who ran 149 yards against the Colts early in 2016, is exactly that from his third 1,000-yard season. And Gore can become the third player in league history with two 1,000-yard seasons after turning 33 — if he finishes with at least 139 yards.

THE SIDELINE: Luck hasn’t been seen on the Colts’ sideline since early October. Everything could change this weekend.

Luck returned from his European rehab trip this week and could be back on the field, in street clothes, Sunday.

THE AUDITIONS: While everyone inside the organizations talk about winning, the reality is this weekend also serves as an audition for players young, old and recently signed.

Both organizations have recently added players who they may want to see in action this weekend.

“We all have to enjoy these last couple days and try to put good film out there for the other 31 teams,” Gore said.

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