HOUSTON (AP) Antonio Smith was so excited about rejoining the Houston Texans after a three-game suspension that he woke up early Tuesday hoping to meet the team buses when they arrived from the airport from their season opener at San Diego.
Rain and rush hour traffic delayed his trip from the suburbs and he missed their arrival.
That was OK, though. It gave the gregarious defensive end a chance to surprise his teammates in the locker room.
``It was kind of funny,'' he said. ``I just popped up on them. They were like: `Oh, Tone, man we missed you.' It made me feel warm in my heart.''
Smith was suspended for hitting Miami guard Richie Incognito with the Dolphins player's helmet in a preseason game. He was docked about $354,000 for the incident, and says something like that won't happen again.
``That will be changed,'' he said. ``That has to be changed. I can't let him or anyone else get in my head.''
He also recounted a letter he received from the league when it denied his appeal that included a list of all of his previous personal fouls. The letter included a warning for him in the future.
``If you do anything else you're going to have a harsher fine for minor things now,'' he said, paraphrasing the letter's warning.
Coach Gary Kubiak said he's never seen Smith smile as much as he has since returning from his suspension. He raved about the impact he has on his team.
``Antonio's an energy guy, plays extremely hard, has a lot of fun playing football and you can count on his effort,'' Kubiak said. ``I know we missed him and we're just glad to have him back.''
Smith cooked BBQ and had a house full of people to watch the game Monday night. Houston trailed by 21 points in the second half before rallying for the 31-28 victory.
He said being away all week while his team was preparing for the game was painful, but by game day, he had made peace with the situation and a different feeling took over.
``It was weird,'' Smith said. ``You were kind of putting yourself in the game, a game you are supposed to be at, so then you kind of become more like a coach than anything. It was a weird experience.''
Smith is the bookend to 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Kubiak thought Jared Crick did a good job filling in for Smith on Monday, but is eager to get his starter back.
``It keeps balance in what we're doing,'' Kubiak said of having Smith. ``Antonio is another pass-rush-ability-type of guy and it helps us from a pressure standpoint. We had a little bit of a problem the other night getting there in some of our base stuff.''
Smith is in his fifth season in Houston after spending the first five years of his career in Arizona. Before Monday night, he'd missed just one game in his career with the Texans, and that came in 2009. The suspension ended a streak of 62 straight starts.
He had 30 tackles and a career-high seven sacks last season, but is often overlooked on a defense that features Watt and linebacker Brian Cushing.
``We realize what he does,'' Kubiak said. ``He had as good of a year as anybody last year in my opinion. He was excellent and the camp he had this year was very good. So he's showing signs that he's continued to improve as a player even though he's been playing for a while.''