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Texans fifth-round rookie QB T.J. Yates' passer rating in Week 16 was 101, but can he win a playoff game?
Yates' performance — as well as that of the rest of the Texans — raised serious doubts about Houston's postseason potential after they lost 19-16 to a Colts team that came into the game with one win.
It was supposed to be a celebration for Houston — a proverbial changing of the guard. The new AFC South champs headed to Indianapolis — where they had never won in nine previous attempts — to take the torch from the Colts, the division's dominant club for the past decade. Plus, Houston still could enhance its playoff standing, perhaps securing home-field advantage and an all-important first-round bye.
After blitzing Texans ILB Brian Cushing strip-sacked Colts QB Dan Orlovsky on the first play of the game, and Texans RB Arian Foster waltzed into the endzone on a nine-yard scoring run just two plays later, it appeared the rout was on and the Texans would finally flip the script on their division rivals.
Appearances can be deceiving, though.
On the surface, Yates' 13-of-16 passing performance for 132 yards, with no TDs and no interceptions seems harmless enough. But he was sacked four times and lost a fumble. Further, the Texans managed just three field goals after Foster's TD, with Yates and the offense failing time and again on third down (Houston was an alarming 1-of-10 on third-down conversions). That allowed the Colts to hang around, which they did until former Texans QB Dan Orlovsky improbably drove his team 78 yards with less than two minutes left for the game-winning score, a one-yard Reggie Wayne TD over CB Kareem Jackson.
Just like that, the momentum the Texans spent nearly two months building was gone. They are locked into the No. 3 seed, but left Indianapolis thinking of what could have been.
After churning out a franchise-record seven consecutive wins, Houston is in a two-game funk, falling to the Panthers in Week 15 before its embarrassing and deflating defeat in Indianapolis.
The Texans' offense, one of the more balanced and formidable attacks in football with QB Matt Schaub under center, has become one-dimensional and uninspired with Yates at the helm. Still, head coach Gary Kubiak says the Texans will sink or swim with Yates — as opposed to, perhaps, turning to one of their veteran backups, Jake Delhomme or Jeff Garcia, both of whom were recently acquired because of their big-game experience.
"I think T.J. continues to do some good things," Kubiak said one day after his team's second consecutive letdown. "... I think he continues to get better and, like I said, for where we're heading here, he needs to continue to get better and we just got to trust him and move forward."
Houston is averaging just 16.5 points in four games with Yates at the controls.
The "D" has played well for the most part — a woeful first half against Carolina, and terrible final drives against both the Panthers and Colts aside — but the margin for error is almost nonexistent because of the team's offensive struggles.
Add to that 11 Texans penalties for 84 yards — including three critical flags on Indianapolis' final drive — and the 16 points and 283 total yards they put up against one of the worst defenses in football simply wasn't enough to get the job done.
To read the rest of this feature on the Texans and their postseason prospects, purchase a copy of the current issue Pro Football Weekly online at the PFWstore.com. In this issue, you'll also find our top-10 story lines of the upcoming 2012 offseason; our comprehensive fantasy football coverage; and our very popular "Audibles" and "The Way We Hear It."