In the moment, it felt so overwhelming.
How could the Texans, already reeling from the loss of Matt Schaub, recover from yet another season-ending quarterback injury, this time to the left collarbone of Matt Leinart?
The initial results didn't look promising. Although the Texans won their fifth straight and improved their AFC South-leading record to 8-3, the T.J. Yates-led Texans didn't score a point in the second half and registered less than 30 total yards.
However, a closer look reveals that things might not be as dire as they seem. Here are five reasons the Texans could survive yet another significant injury loss:
5.) Leinart wasn't great himself -- and the Texans still found offensive success The left-hander had one great throw on a 20-yard touchdown to Joel Dreessen. But for the most part, he lived up to his well-chronicled "Matty Checkdown" reputation. Throw after throw went within five yards of the line of scrimmage, most to Arian Foster. On the whole, Leinart's 10-of-13 outing for 57 yards registered an average of below six yards per catch.
Nonetheless, the Texans still put up a blistering 20 first-half points. One touchdown came after a long run from Foster, and the two field goals from Neil Rackers were set up by stops from the Texans' No. 1-ranked defense.
Jacksonville boasts a good defense themselves, too, ranking No. 4 in the league entering Sunday. But even with Schaub out (and Leinart missing the final series), the Texans put up 20 points in a single half -- reflecting the talent of the team as a whole.
4.) The difference in the first and second half was the playcalling, not the QB Yates looked capable when given the opportunity, evidenced by the final first-half drive -- when he completed 3-of-6 passes for 42 yards and led the Texans to a field goal. With time running out, Yates had to throw, and he delivered. In the second half, Gary Kubiak rarely gave him that opportunity. After throwing on six of 10 first downs with Leinart, the Texans threw on only 1 of 9 second-half first downs with Yates.
The Jaguars knew the Texans would lean on the running game, and they stopped it. By and large, the only opportunities Yates had to throw were on third-and-long against the blitz, situations in which any quarterback would face long odds.
Quite simply, Kubiak didn't want to trust a rookie quarterback -- especially one with almost no work with Houston starters -- while holding a 10-point lead in the second half, all against a team with a bad offense. All season long, the Texans have said their goal is to go 1-0 each week. Perhaps Kubiak could've given Yates more opportunities to build confidence with easy throws, but he instead chose the most efficient route for victory No. 8. Given his track record this season, who are we to argue?
3.) Next week represents an ideal audition for Yates It's a home game at Reliant Stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons are the best team the Texans have played since their Week 6 loss at Baltimore. They'll need competent quarterback play to win, and they will see very quickly if Yates can make the necessary plays. If they lose, it's no biggie. They essentially have a three-game lead (figuring in the tiebreaker) on the Titans in the AFC South, and figure to be heavy favorites -- no matter the quarterback -- at home against Carolina and on the road at winless Indianapolis.
A non-conference loss to the Falcons would do little to derail their AFC South hopes, so why not turn Yates loose? Let him sink or swim. Yates showed promise in his limited opportunities Sunday, giving Andre Johnson his only two receptions while also finding Owen Daniels. Leinart was unable to get either involved, so it's possible the Texans have something in the rookie from North Carolina. If they don't? 2.) Free agent options aren't chopped liver All wife and sexting jokes aside, veterans such as Brett Favre and Jeff Garcia are available. They've each found playoff success in the not-too-distant past, and you'd have to believe each would relish the opportunity for one more chance at Super Bowl glory with an offensive corps as talented as the one in Houston. If Yates fails his test against Atlanta, a hypothetical veteran would still have four games to round into form before the postseason.
It would be something of an unprecedented scenario, but the bar to have success with Foster, Johnson, Daniels and the rest of the Houston offense isn't very high. After all, Leinart did it Sunday. Yates and the recently signed Kellen Clemens aren't the only options.
1.) The schedule remains incredibly favorable The Texans have a near-certain win on Dec. 22 at winless Indianapolis, which gives them a floor of nine wins. The Titans (6-5) have a near-certain loss against New Orleans on Dec. 11, which would give them six losses and a ceiling of 10 wins. By beating the Colts and moving to 5-0 in the AFC South, the Texans would automatically own the division tiebreaker on Tennessee (already two division losses), regardless of what may happen when the two teams finish the season at Reliant on Jan. 2. So, the Texans would need just one more win -- home on Dec. 18 against 3-8 Carolina seems a safe bet -- to secure the division and at least one home playoff game.
That offers Kubiak a chance to get creative. Sure, it's difficult to imagine a Super Bowl contender being led by a fifth-round rookie or a free-agent quarterback signed in December. That's because the typical NFL schedule demands structure in order to contend, and often lends itself to conservatism in the case of significant injury. Teams want to hold on. With the schedule almost guaranteeing the Texans their first-ever playoff berth, Kubiak has the luxury of trial-and-error at the QB position. It can start next Sunday.
Check out the updated interactive Texans' season game card.
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