Texans, Cowboys square off with matching 3-1 marks

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — J.J. Watt will leave it to others to decide if the Texans' visit to the Dallas Cowboys qualifies as a matchup of surprise teams.

Houston's dynamic defensive end is probably just glad he doesn't have to answer "here we go again" questions since his team turned its second straight 2-0 start into a 3-1 record after finishing last season with 14 consecutive losses.

So now a Texas rivalry that didn't look as if it would amount to much when the season started features a pair of 3-1 teams, along with the league's leading rusher in Dallas' DeMarco Murray.

"Throughout the whole season I'm going to be saying we can still play better because no matter how you play, you can still play better," said Watt, whose 80-yard interception return for a touchdown put the Texans ahead to stay in last week's 23-17 victory over Buffalo. "But to be at 3-1 right now is definitely a good place to be."

Same with the Cowboys, who bounced back from a season-opening loss to San Francisco that included three interceptions by Tony Romo. They're trying to win four straight for the first time since coach Jason Garrett's first full season in 2011.

The difference is, back then Dallas was trying to dig out of a 3-5 hole. Now the Cowboys go into Sunday's game tied with the Eagles atop the NFC East, while the Texans are alone in first in the AFC South.

Dallas is coming off a surprisingly dominant 38-17 win over New Orleans and has missed the playoffs just twice in franchise history when starting 4-1 or better.

"What you try and do is just get rid of the emotional attachment to each week," said Romo, who has one interception since the opener. "If you don't come back and work as hard on this Wednesday-Thursday-Friday as you did last week, you'll get embarrassed in this league real fast."

The Texans don't shine statistically, while former NFL rushing champion Arian Foster has missed a game and is almost 300 yards behind Murray a quarter of the way through the season. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has as many touchdown passes as interceptions (five).

But Houston is finding ways to win, as Watt showed when he put up his hands to block a pass from EJ Manuel, tipped it to himself and ran untouched to the end zone.

"It's not always pretty, but they really have a never-say-die attitude and I think that's what's fun about coaching them," coach Bill O'Brien said. "They're trying to play smart. They're trying to play physical. In some games we've done better than others."

Things to consider in the fourth meeting of a series that started with Houston's stunning 19-10 win at home in the franchise's first game in 2002.

WATT VS. SMITH: Watt and Dallas left tackle Tyron Smith were drafted two spots apart in 2011, starting with Smith at No. 9 overall.

Watt would have been a great fit for the Cowboys because they were playing the 3-4 then, but they're obviously not complaining about a 23-year-old cornerstone who just got the second $100 million contract in franchise history after Romo.

The pair won't line up against each other every play because the Texans move Watt around, but they figure to see plenty of each other.

"You can tell that he studies a lot, prepares a lot so all you can do is just prepare for it, study about the same way he's studying," Smith said.

WITTEN FOR 10,000: Dallas' Jason Witten needs 45 yards to join Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe as the only tight ends in league history with 10,000 yards receiving. There's just one problem in his mind. When the season started, he needed 201. "I really didn't think it would be Week 5 when I was reaching that," Witten said.

GETTING FOSTER GOING: The Texans are coming off one of the 10 worst rushing games in franchise history after getting 37 yards against the Bills. Foster was admittedly not at full strength with a hamstring problem after missing the previous game and had just 6 yards on eight carries. Fitzpatrick was the leading rusher (14 yards) against Buffalo.

"It's going to be a big part of who we are going forward here throughout the year," Fitzpatrick said. "We've got to get back on track there."

ELITE COMPANY: Murray can tie O.J. Simpson (Buffalo, 1975) for second on the all-time list with his fifth straight game of at least 100 yards rushing and one touchdown to start the season. Cleveland's Jim Brown set the record of six in 1958. Murray has already matched Emmitt Smith's franchise record of four straight in 1995.

"I've been hearing that from you guys a little bit, but that's so far out of my head and out of my mind," said Murray, whose 534 yards are 156 better than Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell at No. 2.

MORE MILESTONES: Texans receiver Andre Johnson needs one catch and 77 yards receiving to reach 950 receptions and 13,000 yards in the second-fewest games. It's his 159th game. Marvin Harrison got to 950 catches in 158 games, while Jerry Rice needed 154 games to reach 13,000 yards.



AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP\_NFL


Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

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