Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/4/11
HOUSTON The Houston Texans thought T.J. Yates could play, of course. That is sort of the whole point of having him on an NFL roster. "He's an NFL quarterback," running back Arian Foster said. That establishes the baseline expectation. Yates' trade is quarterbacking, and he would be expected to competently ply that trade for the Houston Texans against the Atlanta Falcons. Houston did not seem to be harboring any serious doubts about his ability to do that. The night before the Texans (9-3) beat the Atlanta Falcons (7-5) 17-10 Sunday at Reliant Stadium, coach Gary Kubiak tested Yates on the gameplan, which Kubiak said was the same one he would have given Matt Schaub or Matt Leinart, who are both out for the year. "I went in there and told the whole team, 'I wish you could have been in there, he's ready to play, he's going to be fine,'" Kubiak said. "But with so long to go, and so much riding on it, we need to ask him to grow up real fast." Everybody knew that about Yates, though. They knew he was smart, and they knew he would now the plan. But they had never seen him do it in a full game, so until Sunday nobody really knew much of anything. Football people like to describe games as "when the bullets are flying," and as much as you believe a person is capable, and as many throws as you've seen them make with the yellow quarterback jersey on in a dark, echoing practice dome, you cannot fully trust that belief until you see it in front of 70,000. "He didn't get rattled at all," offensive lineman Duane Brown said. "He made some big time throws, man. It definitely told me and the rest of the team he's capable of starting in this league." That was the feeling. Now, the data. Yates completed 12 of 25 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once, but the play was waved off on a penalty. He committed one turnover when he threw the ball into the dirt 10 yards downfield and the Falcons returned it for a touchdown. After a replay and a penalty, Atlanta was credited for a fumble recovery but not a touchdown. So you could not say Yates dazzled anybody, but in any case he outplayed Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who also completed less than half his passes and was intercepted twice. Everybody says Yates never gets too high or low. His folks were in town for the game, but he didn't expect to do much celebrating. "I'll probably grab some dinner with the family," he said. "Then go home and go to sleep." After his touchdown pass, the home crowd began chanting his name. "I didn't even hear it," he said. The plainest truth was that the Texans defense won the game. But Yates, a rookie fifth-round draft making his first NFL start, did not lose it, which was significant. "It's been three weeks, three different quarterbacks," coach Gary Kubiak said, "but it's the same team." That team is one whose identity has radically transformed since last season. Formerly thought of as a soft, offensive team that wilted under heat, the Texans now are as fearsome a defensive team as any in the NFL, and a mauling offensive machine that doesn't so much dance around you as shove your face into the mud. The Falcons entered the game averaging 23.5 points (ranking 12th in the NFL) and 366 yards (13th) while allowing 20.6 (13th) and 329 yards (9th). Both teams finished with 337 yards, but the game's defining moment began with 1:46 left in the third quarter and ended with 6:09 left in the fourth. It was a 19-play, 85-yard drive that included a conversion on fourth-and-1 and ended with a Foster TD run that broke a 10-10 tie. It was reminiscent of a 10-minute, 55-second drive against the Steelers in a week four win. "On third down, they were running the ball and getting seven or eight yards and getting first downs instead of trying to pass it," Falcons defensive end John Abraham said. "It was deflating, but we still had a chance to stop them." Yates completed just two passes on the drive, which was not necessarily indicative of the gameplan. With newly signed Jake Delhomme and Kellen Clemens the Texans' only two other options at quarterback, and Houston in the front of the playoff race, Kubiak decided babying Yates would be counterproductive. "I think if you're playing one game or something maybe you approach something like that," Kubiak said. "But he's our quarterback for the rest of the year. I think it's important that we go ahead and move forward and leave our expectations the same. I don't want to cuff him. I want him to go play."
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