HOUSTON (AP) -Mario Williams has endured endless and often repetitive questions since the Houston Texans chose him No. 1 in last year's draft. There's one thing he wishes someone - anyone - would ask.
``How am I?'' he said. ``How am I doing? How's life? Just basically stuff that doesn't deal with football.''
Chances are, if someone asked this week, the defensive end would tell them he couldn't be better after a breakout performance in Houston's season-opening win that made him the AFC defensive player of the week and quieted the critics, at least for now.
He scored his first touchdown on a 38-yard fumble return, had five tackles, including two sacks and three hurries in Houston's 20-3 win over Kansas City that made the Texans 1-0 for the first time since 2003.
His two sacks put him almost halfway to his rookie sack total of 4 1/2.
It was the first time Williams showed the game-changing ability the Texans believed he had since they passed on Reggie Bush and Vince Young to draft him. As good as those statistics were, coach Gary Kubiak realized Williams was even better than he thought after watching the film.
``When a guy has good things happen to him and he gets the numbers that people talk about on a week-to-week basis, that's a good thing,'' Kubiak said. ``But then you flip on the film and you watch that he played down in and down out and was definitely a factor in the game every play.''
When told of Kubiak's comments, the usually reserved Williams seemed downright giddy.
``You know I didn't know he said that,'' Williams practically shrieked. ``But anytime your head coach watches film and says something like that, that's something you've got to smile at. You've got to crack a smile at that one.''
Kubiak has been impressed with the progress Williams has made in one year.
``He's come a long way, because there's a great deal of pressure or tension on him since he's been here,'' Kubiak said. ``We've seen what type of player he is and what he's done. The kid's done everything we've asked him to do with his work habits and stuff.''
After a year of being called everything from a disappointment to a bust and constantly being compared to Bush and Young, Sunday's outing was a bit of redemption for Williams. He started every game last season despite dealing with a painful foot problem.
The 22-year-old won't acknowledge if the incessant criticism got to him and continues to insist he doesn't read or watch anything about himself. But he wants to make clear that it's not meant as an insult to the media.
``I can't really listen too much to what people say,'' he said. ``You've got to understand that I'm not blowing people off when I say that. The whole point is just that I can't control it - so why waste time worrying about it?''
Mary Williams, who helped her son celebrate Sunday by preparing a feast that included meatloaf, butterbeans, cabbage and cornbread, had more trouble ignoring the negativity.
``It's not that he didn't care about it, he just didn't let it bother him,'' she said. ``But me, there were quite a few people on my list last year for things they said about Mario.''
That list likely shrunk this week with Williams being heralded across the country as the star he was supposed to be after finally living up to his draft status. But he's not naive enough to think one game will keep the critics at bay if his next game doesn't include any sacks.
``Oh man, believe me, I'm waiting on that,'' he said laughing. ``Whether I have five sacks or no sacks, I could play just as well or better and have no sacks, but in this business, for a defensive end all they look at is sacks.''
Aside from being healthy, Williams, who broke N.C. State records for career tackles for a loss and sacks in just three seasons, credits his early success this year to feeling more comfortable in Houston.
``It just seems like I'm more accepted,'' he said. ``Not to say that I wasn't last year ... but everybody was adjusting a little bit. Everything feels a lot different, with this team and how we approach things and how we bond and that has helped me a lot.''
He's also finally learned to ``let loose'' and not be so mechanical in his play. It was difficult for him to learn that he didn't have to take coaching so literally.
``When you tell me to do something, I really overemphasize what you told me to do,'' he said. ``If you were to tell me to go inside on the next play, that's what I'd do no matter what. That's why I kept saying that I felt mechanical because if I was told to do something, no matter what, I'm going to do that.''
Williams quickly responded to the coaching style of defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, who's in his first year in Houston. He said the 6-foot-7, 285-pound player has made tremendous progress since the start of camp and is looking for his success to continue as he gains more confidence.
``When you try something new for the first time, it's not going to feel natural,'' Franklin said. ``The more and more times you do it, hopefully the better you feel about it and the more natural it becomes. That's what we're looking for with him.''
Williams can build on his success in a return to his home state Sunday against the Carolina Panthers when the Texans try to go 2-0 for the first time in franchise history. He grew up in Richlands, N.C., watching the Panthers and wants to do well in front of the dozens of family and friends expected to attend.
``You are as good as your last game,'' he said. ``So I have to go and get better than I did last week. One week, you can have everybody on your back and the next week everybody is praising you so it's basically all up to me and about taking care of my business.''
It will be the first time Williams will play against Carolina's Julius Peppers, the player he's most often compared to. Fellow defensive end N.D. Kalu thinks the matchup will be important for Williams.
``If he can outplay him, that will be a big game for him,'' Kalu said. ``Not only that, but for him to have two great back-to-back games, it will really get that monkey off his back.''
Peppers, almost identical in size to Williams and also wears No. 90, knows people often compare Williams to him. But beyond that, he said he doesn't know much about him.
``I haven't really seen a lot of film on him,'' Peppers said. ``But from what I hear about him, I hear he's a good kid and he could play.''
Williams said he has been watching Peppers for ``as long as he can remember'' and hopes to reach his level one day.
``God blessed me to have the ability that he has and I'm just thankful if I get to that point,'' he said.
Peppers, who had 13 sacks last season but none in the opener, will try to find Williams after the game to say hello and might share a few tips.
``The best advice I can give is work hard at what you're doing and focus on your job and your responsibilities,'' he said. ``The rest of it should take care of itself.''

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