The Baltimore Ravens, rarely a sympathetic bunch, can at least empathize with their opponent on Sunday.
The Houston Texans are expected to visit M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore without three starters. They also listed 18 players on their first official injury report of the week.
Outside linebacker Mario Williams will sit out the remainder of the season after suffering a torn pectoral in the Texans' 25-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Fullback James Casey, who is nursing a strained pectoral, is described as being "day-to-day" by coachGary Kubiak.
Those two are expected to be joined on the sideline by wide receiver Andre Johnson, who underwent surgery on his injured right hamstring last week. Many projections have him missing at least two more weeks.
The sight of the Texans limping into this Sunday's showdown has raised the question of whether the Ravens — who are optimistic about the potential return of six injured players — are meeting Houston at the right time. And it's a question that has been shot down emphatically by the players.
"No, man, this is the NFL. You never catch a team at the right time," said Lardarius Webb, who — along with fellow starting cornerback Cary Williams — may be the most immediate beneficiary of Johnson's absence. "They've always got somebody behind them ready to step up, and he's just as good as the first one. That's why this is the NFL. So we have to go into this game as if they are playing with those guys. Not too many things are going to change. They're still going to play hard, they just came off a loss, but they're going to come in ready to ball no matter who they don't have. There's some guys that we don't have, but we still go in planning to win."
Kubiak said Mason immediately adds depth to a group that also is dealing with a less-than-100-percent Bryant Johnson. As for reports from New York that Mason was either complaining about his role with the Jets or hadn't yet absorbed the playbook, Kubiak didn't have an answer.
"I don't get into that," Kubiak said during his conference call Wednesday morning. "We'll give him an opportunity here. I know a lot of guys that have coached him and he's played very well in this league, at a high level for a long time. We've got an opportunity here that he can help us out. So we'll give him a chance to do that."
Ravens free safety Ed Reed questioned how quickly Mason could absorb his new team's playbook.
"It's going to be interesting, man, to see how they incorporate Mason to the offense in such a short time, [on] such short notice," Reed said. "We knew they needed a receiver with Andre being down. But Mason is a smart guy. I don't know why it didn't work out in New York, but Mason is a professional, and I know he's going to be prepared if he's put in the game."
Of the Texans' concerns, the likely absence of Johnson is especially significant for the Ravens, who surrendered 140 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches to the five-time Pro Bowl selection in the Ravens' 34-28 overtime win against Houston on Dec. 13.
Before his hamstring injury, Johnson ranked fourth in the NFL in yards (316) and tied for third in receptions (21). But with Houston forced to play without Johnson, the Raiders stacked the line of scrimmage with eight and sometimes nine defenders, limiting running back Arian Foster to 68 yards on 22 carries.
Quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns, but he completed just 47.1 percent (24-of-51) of his passes, was sacked three times, and tossed two interceptions.
Williams did not record a defensive statistic against the Ravens last season, but his presence warranted a good deal of the team's attention, which may have contributed to the Texans collecting five sacks against quarterback Joe Flacco. Williams is tied for fourth in the NFL with five sacks this season.
Williams was replaced by Brooks Reed, who finished with four tackles and two quarterback hits against the Raiders. But Reed is no Williams.
Even with the injuries, Houston still poses a threat in the AFC. At 3-2, the Texans are tied with the Tennessee Titans atop the AFC South. The offense ranks eighth in average yards, while the defense ranks seventh in both yards and points allowed.
That's why coach John Harbaugh dismissed any notion of the Ravens catching a break.
"All those things [are], I guess, just for you guys to write about," he said. "It just doesn't really matter to us. We've got to get ready to play. That team is a really good team. I told our team before we left on the bye week that we'd be playing the best team in the AFC next week — the team that was playing the best. And if you look at the game against Oakland even, statistically, they dominated the game in a lot of ways. I mean, they had over 400 yards passing. Defensively, they were getting after it pretty good. Oakland didn't do anything until toward the end of the game. So that's the team we're going to play. I think they're a contender for the conference championship. This is going to be a heavyweight match, and it's going to be a tough ballgame for us."