HOUSTON -- Houston’s Andre Johnson heard the whispers he’d lost a step and that he’d never again be an elite receiver as he struggled through the worst season of his career in 2011.
He didn’t let it get him down.
Johnson used it as motivation, and bounced back from last year’s 492-yard season with a career-high 1,598 yards receiving this season.
Now he’s looking to do more as the Texans prepare for Saturday’s playoff game against the Bengals.
His performance this season has left him with Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history with at least three seasons with 1,500 yards receiving. He also reached the mark in 2008 and 2009.
Johnson has 112 catches this season for his fourth career 100-catch year and his most since finishing with 115 catches in 2008. He was recently selected to his sixth Pro Bowl and has more than 11,000 yards receiving in his career.
Coach Gary Kubiak calls Johnson’s season "amazing", and loves the way he leads the Texans by example with his hard work and positive attitude.
"I’ve been fortunate to be around some special players, but I really count my blessings with this one," Kubiak said. "He’s a heck of a player, but a great kid, too."
Johnson has had success against Cincinnati, and is averaging 122.7 yards receiving in his past three games against the Bengals.
He’s disappointed that the team has struggled recently, losing three of its past four games. But he believes they’ll turn things around on Saturday.
"We just haven’t been playing football the way that we know how to play it," Johnson said. "We just have to get back to what we have done earlier during the season. Find that same kind of focus and everybody just lock into what they’re doing and just go play football the way we know how to play it."
Johnson got off to a slow start this season after being hampered by minor injuries in training camp. But he has been on a roll in the past seven games, piling up 1,001 yards. Johnson has six 100-yard games this season, including a career-best 273 yards receiving in a win over the Jaguars.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis doesn’t believe it’s possible to shut down Johnson, but they do hope to limit his catches.
"He’s a fine, fine player and I don’t know about shutting (him) down and if you can ... do that because as we know, it’s a two-pronged attack there with both the running game and the throwing game that comes off of it," Lewis said. "You really have to play really sound, sound defensive football in order to do that."
Johnson has a lot of respect for the Bengals, and knows Houston will have to play much better than it has been to win on Saturday.
"(They) might be the most talented defense we probably have faced," Johnson said. "They’ve been playing good football, a lot of good players on the back end, so it’ll be a big challenge for us."
Johnson, who is the longest-tenured Texan, waited eight seasons before finally making the playoffs for the first time last season. His second trip will be very similar to the first with Houston hosting Cincinnati in a wild-card game for the second straight season.
"It’s not new," Johnson said. "Last year it was new to us. This time it’s not new. It’s crazy that we’re in the same place we were in last year, playing the same team. It’ll be big. And we’ll be ready to go."
One player it will be new to is quarterback Matt Schaub, who missed last year’s playoff run with an injured foot. Much of the blame for Houston’s recent slump has been directed at Schaub.
"That’s just part of it," Johnson said. "When the team is not playing well, the quarterback is going to take most of the criticism. It’s all about how you respond. We have another game Saturday, so however he goes out and plays Saturday that’s what people will talk about."