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.