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Texans' Bob McNair hints Andre Johnson lost a step

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When the Houston Texans informed Andre Johnson that he would be an afterthought in Bill O'Brien's offense this season, the franchise icon laughed his way to the top of the division in Indianapolis.

Texans owner Bob McNair told ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli this week that he wasn't surprised at Johnson's reaction because it's human nature for athletes to go into denial in the twilight of their careers.

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"Every athlete I think would like to play forever," McNair said. "They never want to acknowledge that they've lost a step or they can't quite do what they did before. Just look at history. Look at all the players. It just happens time and time again.

"We don't like to acknowledge that we're getting older. None of us do. That's just human nature, and I don't think that's going to change. ... They're used to being a star and they'd like to continue being a star. I don't blame 'em, I understand that."

As interesting as McNair's comments might be, it's surprising that he would publicly intimate that Johnson has lost a step -- even if it's true.

A potential Hall of Famer, Johnson was the best receiver in the game at his career apex. A superstar of that magnitude wouldn't have taken a backseat to an up-and-comer like DeAndre Hopkins if he hadn't lost a step.

As the Panthers discovered with Steve Smith last season, though, the answer isn't that simple.

Was Johnson's decline in production purely the onset of physical attrition? Or was it just as much about a changing role in a new offense with a four-pack of scattershot quarterbacks?

When Case Keenum called Johnson's number in Week 17, the 33-year-old receiver had no problem getting open and dicing through the Jaguars' secondary for 134 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches.

That version of Johnson didn't seem far off from the one that averaged All-Pro-caliber numbers of 111 receptions and 1,503 yards the two years prior.

With a Smith-sized chip on his shoulder, Johnson isn't going to accept McNair's innocuous appraisal at face value. He will internalize the sentiment that he's washed up and use that as fuel for a bounce-back season, just as Smith did in 2014.

The Colts believe Johnson can return to that elite 2012-2013 level catching passes from Andrew Luck, easily the best quarterback of his 13-year career.

"Watched him on tape, everybody watched him on tape when we knew there was maybe a chance he'd come available," coach Chuck Pagano said at the NFL Annual Meeting this week. "Saw a dominant guy, we know what he went through last season, the circumstances he went through, but he's a force to be reckoned with. You need to do everything you can to make sure he doesn't wreck the game."

McNair wanted Johnson to be a "Texan for life." Johnson stated just four months ago that he didn't want to "put on someone else's uniform."

Instead, the best player in Texans franchise history is poised to contend for the first Super Bowl of his storied career -- in a Colts uniform.

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