I think that the entire football world shares some measure of sympathy for the Texans. Even Cortland Finnegan must be somewhat outraged at the rash of injuries, which have so unjustly preyed upon the Texans' roster this season. If one could've placed a wager at the start of the season that the Texans would lose Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart and Mario Williams for the season, not to mention Daniel Manning, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster for good stretches, I stretch my imagination in venturing a guess on the odds. How about 5,000 to 1? Seeing Leinart go down on Sunday had sort of a numbing effect. After all this team has endured this season to arrive at an 8-3 record, who was truly shocked to learn that Leinart had been lost for the season?
As far as I can guesstimate, the Texans will go with T.J. Yates the rest of the way, assuming he survives the Atlanta game in one piece! What I have gathered from scouting reports and player commentary is that, although he's a rookie, he's more athletic than either Schaub or Leinart, and he can throw a good mid-range ball. Another good advantage is that he worked out extensively with Schaub in the preseason and also spent six weeks throwing to Johnson during his hamstring rehab, so they've apparently developed some chemistry.
I believe that the Texans will give the keys to Yates, and rightfully so. Its a shame what happened to Leinart, but that's the nature of the game. As far reaching as this sounds, I think that for this specific team, the most devastating loss would have been an injury to Brian Cushing, Johnathan Joseph or Arian Foster. True, I'd much rather have Schaub or Leinart under center, but Yates will do better than most anticipate, namely because he is so well-coached and supported by his teammates.
Although Atlanta boasts the second stingiest run defense in the NFL, I would expect the Texans to run the ball surprisingly better at home next weekend against those Falcons. This team epitomizes selflessness on the football field, and Coach Gary Kubiak deserves immense amounts of credit for keeping this team together and focused on the collective mission. Some teams woud've capitulated losing a player the caliber of Mario Williams, much less Schaub or Leinart, but the Texans seem to garner rare strength from such adversity.
To answer any questions about Yates and how he'll perform, my guess is he'll have his ups and downs, but more ups than downs, and this team will finish 10-6 and win their division. With such a talented, but more importantly, unified and selfless team, it would be difficult even for a mid-round rookie to not enjoy some measure of success. Expect the Texans to lean heavily on the run, but mark my words that starting this Sunday Kubiak will mix in plenty of surprises. Look for Kubiak to implement plays which take advantage of Yates' mobility to roll him out of the pocket and air out some long balls to Johnson and Jacoby Jones.
Remember, at the start of the season our goal was simply to qualify for the playoffs. Even if Schaub and Williams were still playing and the Texans won their division and lost at home in the first round, yes, we'd be a little disappointed, yet the primary goal would have been accomplished. For the Houston Texans, this season is all about making the playoffs. It'll be icing on the cake to qualify as division champs.
Starting next season, the ante is upped and anything less than at least one playoff victory would be considered failure. I think that this season, under these circumstances with T.J. Yates at quarterback, the Texans have a chance to do something this franchise has never done in its near decade history: become the center of attention of the football world over the coming weeks (less Tebow-mania, of course!). Indeed, all media eyes will be upon Houston to see if Yates becomes Cinderella, and all playoff foes will be watching intently to see where Houston ends up seeded for the playoffs, barring disaster. For the first time since the Run-and-Shoot days of the Oilers, Houston football serves an honorable purpose in December!
So this is no time for Texans fans to hang their heads. I believe that the Texans have the talent, chemistry and collective will to finish well with Yates at the helm. They will sign another backup, and while I wish it were Kurt Warner, it'll likely be an obscure name. Still, we must be satisfied that Yates got his feet wet on Sunday and did enough to secure a victory. Now he comes home to face his boyhood team as an underdog. But football is a team sport, and plenty of Texans will be ready to step up their games. Don't think that Arian Foster and Ben Tate aren't aware of the criticism they're taking for their performance against Jacksonville. Don't think that the Texan's defense will not be ready to up the intensity even more in front of their fans. This team will rally behind T.J. Yates and do enough to get themselves at least two or three more wins, which will be enough to clinch the AFC South Division and achieve the season's #1 goal – a trip to the playoffs.
My question: Who scripted this!? Not only are the Texans playing football for real pay dirt in December, but the drama and unpredictability have vaulted them into the national spotlight and, thanks to a heaping dose of good-ole-American-overcoming-of-adversity as much as Arian Foster's cuts, your Houston Texans just might be finding a place in the hearts of the casual fan in the further reaches of the nation.
A long term silver lining is that going into next season and beyond, T.J. Yates will be ready to assume the full backup role and eventually become the starter. He's got the NFL physical size, the cool collected pocket presence, the relentless work ethic and the toughness to succeed in the NFL. Remember, they didn't pick this guy up sacking groceries. He was actually drafted and played Division I college football.
In conclusion, don't buy into the noise that you will likely hear about how the poor Texans' dream season has been derailed. Its taken a hit, and I do not expect them to earn a trip to the Super Bowl with T.J. Yates at quarterback, but that was never my goal for this team to begin with, even with Matt Schaub under center. Next season, the expectations will be rightfully higher. The Texans will play at least three Monday Night/Sunday Night games and will be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
With a great owner, great city and fans, world class stadium and plenty of young, team-first talent, I think that we Texans fans have much to be thankful for, even though the short term journey just got bumpier.