HOUSTON - In a moment of sincere introspection and refreshing honesty, Texans free safety Danieal Manning acknowledged that his responsibilities are only halfway complete.
In one aspect Manning has accomplished what the Texans expected of him when they signed him to a four-year, 20-million contract just prior to the start of training camp. He provided a steady hand in a vastly improved secondary, finishing fourth on the team with 59 tackles despite missing three games with a broken leg suffered in Nashville.
The process of fulfilling the second part of his job description is unfolding this week. With the Texans (10-6) making their postseason debut as a franchise on Saturday in an AFC Wild Card Game against the Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) at Reliant Stadium, a quick perusal of their active roster reveals 39 players poised for their first playoff appearance. Manning, conversely, is one of four Texans with Super Bowl experience.
"I feel like they brought me here, one, for my experience around good defenses. They were trying to build this defense, build the back end up," said Manning, who started 56 games over five seasons with the Bears. "And then just the experience that I have in the playoffs. I think that goes a long way.
"I've been around the playoffs to know, I've played in the Super Bowl enough to realize that you can't concede anything. Not one blink in practice. Nothing, because that stuff comes back to haunt you."
Relative to preparation, the postseason neophyte Texans are on solid ground with their coaching staff. Collectively the group has played andor coached in 175 playoff games, including 20 Super Bowls. Coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison are responsible for half of those Super Bowl appearances and have a combined five rings between them. Tight ends coach Brian Pariani has three Super Bowl rings. Assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack and wide receivers coach Larry Kirksey have one apiece. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has coached in 21 wild card or divisional round games.
While Phillips, who coached the Cowboys to the postseason in 2009, can help with the refresher course, Kubiak is by no means unfamiliar with preparing for games in January. There is strength in numbers, and for Texans with questions on how to handle the rigors of this week, Kubiak isn't the lone member of the coaching staff poised to provide answers.
"I hope they look at our staff and pull from everybody," Kubiak said. "Wade's been in a lot of big football games. Rico (Dennison), guys have been in a lot of playoff games, have been around those type of things. They got to look to everybody, and like I said, there's a lot of information to be passed along this week, whether it's from me, coaches, players who've played in playoff games. But the bottom line is we're going to play with the same ball, we're going play on the same fields.
"That was my message to them (Tuesday) morning: Hey, whatever you did during the season, you did a hell of a job. You make sure you're doing the same thing this week as we prepare for Saturday.'"
The depth of postseason experience isn't as extensive inside the Texans' locker room. Backup quarterback Jake Delhomme leads the roster with nine postseason games played and he most assuredly will serve as a resource for rookie quarterback T.J. Yates. Kicker Neil Rackers and defensive end Antonio Smith (both with the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII), Delhomme (the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII) and Manning (Super Bowl XLI) reached the pinnacle before falling in the final game.
Beyond that quartet, the postseason experience is mostly sprinkled among reserves: seven games for linebacker Tim Dobbins; six games for quarterback Jeff Garcia; three games for free safety Quintin Demps. Those with playoff wisdom to share have both a platform and captive audience paying rapt attention to the dos and don'ts of this key week.
"I think he's going to be a big asset to us," Texans strong safety Glover Quin said of Manning. "He's been here, he's went all the way to the Super Bowl, so he's going to be able to help us out and tell us what to expect and help us just make the most of this moment because you never know when this moment is going to come back."
Smith seemingly forecast this moment weeks ago, when he first acknowledged the desired blend of selflessness and talent on this roster. Back then he started harkening to the success he enjoyed with the Cardinals, recounting how that team reinvented itself and rolled through the playoffs after stumbling down the stretch of the season.
Smith, who has four playoff games under his belt, addressed the team following Sunday's loss to the Titans. Renowned for his loquaciousness, Smith was clear and concise regarding expectations for the week ahead.
"When it comes to the playoffs, that's it," Smith said. "You miss one practice, one Tuesday, one Thursday, one Friday you lose that (focus). Basically what I was saying is put in every piece of focus you can, whatever you've got, just put it out there for (the postseason)."
Manning offered a similar refrain. If there was one lesson learned, it centered on investing fully in the moment. With so much swirling about the Texans as they prepare for this inaugural voyage into the playoffs, what's most vital is their adherence to the details that got them here.
Manning, for one, is willing to stand tall and make his voice heard. His presence on this roster is two-fold, and the second chore is upon him.
"I can't allow myself to let these guys do it (take anything for granted)," Manning said. "So as much as I can do to contribute to this team, whether it's being vocal or leading by example or just starting off the playoff game getting a big hit where there's maybe a flag, (just) something to where I can get these guys to understand that you can't concede anything because this organization has never been in this position before."
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