Texans keep the good times rolling with QB No. 3

HOUSTON -- Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates did his part all week. He practiced hard. He remained calm. He didn't try to be anyone else, and he played within his own ability. It was every quality his veteran teammates hoped to see as they surged into another unknown chapter.

But it might have been a message from coach Gary Kubiak, one delivered to every member of his team on the eve of Sunday's 17-10 win against the Falcons, that provided the final dose of confidence Houston's players needed to hear.

"He told us, 'I'm not holding back anything -- we're not cutting back the offense,' " Yates said Sunday in a private moment by his locker. "That was really cool. It gives you confidence going into the game when he says it in front of the team like that."

And it gives everyone an understanding of the Texans' mentality this year, one that could have easily been marred by any number of significant injuries. They aren't driving around the road blocks, they're driving right through them.

For the third time in three weeks, the Texans have won with a different starting quarterback. Their latest version -- the one they might just try to ride into the postseason -- is a fifth-round draft pick from North Carolina. Yes, the Texans, tied for the best record in the AFC at 9-3, really are going to ride with Yates.

If you didn't believe it before Sunday, the mindset was cemented by a performance that included some nice deep passes (one for 50 yards to Andre Johnson) and a decent overall performance (12 of 25 with 188 yards and no picks). Kubiak didn't hold back -- and Yates didn't look uncomfortable as a result.

"T.J. is very comfortable with this offense," Johnson said. "He has a lot of confidence in his play. And it shows, man. Look at him out on the field. It shows that he's confident, that he doesn't panic. He stays calm. He's probably one of the calmest guys I've been around."

Ten months ago, Yates attended the scouting combine under the condition that he'd stay for eight consecutive days, serving as an extra arm to throw to wide receivers and defensive backs during their drills in front of scouts. It's an "honor" bestowed on the last three quarterbacks invited to the annual event.

And yet, in only his first start, Kubiak had him running plays that easily could have been called for Matt Schaub before he was hurt two weeks ago. You think Kubiak is all talk? Then why did he decide to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons' 9-yard line with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter -- with a rookie quarterback under center?

"It says coach has a lot of faith in (Yates), as well as the rest of us," running back Ben Tate said. "We had them. Right there, at that moment, they were tired, and we could tell we had them. You've got to play to win. That's what you've got to do in this league."

It's a situation that's making the Texans as likeable as any team in the league. They've never been to the playoffs -- yet they're playing with the swagger of a defending Super Bowl champ. They're playing with their third starting quarterback in three weeks -- yet they threw more passes downfield against the Falcons than they did against the Jaguars the previous week.

At 9-3, the Texans are tied with New England, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. They've won six in a row despite injuries sidelining four of their best players (Matt Schaub, Mario Williams, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster for all or part of that span). And Sunday, they won again with Yates at quarterback even after Johnson went down with another hamstring injury.

This isn't to take anything away from what the Broncos have done in Denver, nor to downplay the tremendous turnaround in San Francisco, but is everyone really paying close enough attention to the wonder works that are occurring in Texas right now?

"After all the injuries we've had, I don't think anybody would have thought we'd be in this position," Johnson said.

"When you have all of us out there together, you've got that experience. It was different (Sunday) because it was the first time we had T.J. out there for a full game. As you could see sometimes, the ball went a little high. But when you're out there with a player consistently, you get that timing."

At the risk of looking too far forward, the Texans' success early in the season should be enough to bridge their way to the playoffs even if they take some time to adjust to life without Schaub. They've got the Bengals, the Panthers, the Colts and the Titans ahead -- a slate of games that should give them a nice chance to make the postseason.

That's when this story gets more interesting. It's reasonable to suggest Yates can get them through the next four games. But the Texans, with the league's top-ranked defense and an offense that has plenty of talent when healthy, seem capable of so much more than a playoff berth. It would be a shame to see their season fade into nothing but a nice record because of the injury to Schaub. In that regard, you can't blame Kubiak for keeping this offense rolling; for keeping the handcuffs off Yates.

If the Texans are going to turn this season into something truly special, they'll need to accomplish two things very soon: They'll need to get Johnson fully healthy to provide Yates with a key weapon. And they'll need to get their rookie quarterback as prepared as possible for the upcoming gauntlet.

In the next four weeks, we should learn plenty about the Texans' latest quarterback to be charged with a big task. More importantly, we'll learn plenty about a team that continues to blow through one setback after another, just as they did Sunday against the Falcons.

Can the Texans keep this success going? If they do, it won't be because they change their ways. It will be because they just keep charging forward.

"I just wanted them to know that people were saying that we're going to cut things back -- that's B.S." Kubiak said. "(Yates) is our quarterback. If we simplified thing, we'd be settling. We're not going to do that."

Clearly, not at quarterback. And clearly, not anywhere else.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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