For the first three months of the season, Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates took mental rep as Matt Schaub and then Matt Leinart endured Gary Kubiak’s infamous quarterback quiz on Saturday nights at the team hotel before games.
It was his turn Saturday night to have a quick and correct response to every play and every scenario fired his way. Yates, who until a few weeks ago was the Texans third string quarterback, not only passed the quiz, he aced it.
Kubiak couldn’t wait to burst into the general team meeting room share the results.
“I went in there and told the whole team, `I wish you could have been in there. He’s ready. He’s going to be fine,’” Kubiak said. “But like I said with so long to go, and so much riding on it, I think we needed him to grow up real fast.”
And mature overnight Yates did in his starting debut with the Texans on Sunday, leading them to a stunning 17-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons at Reliant Stadium. Yates, a fifth-round draft pick, wasn’t perfect by any means but there was nothing about his performance would have indicated that not was this his starting debut but just the second time he had ever snaps in a game after being pressed into duty last week when Leinart went down against Jacksonville.
But what he was bold and confident in making throws that perhaps even Schaub has not made around here. Yates’ defining moment Sunday came in the second quarter when he stood in the pocket and fired a bullet into tight end Joel Dreessen at the goal-line with Falcons all around for a 3-yard touchdown pass that gave the Texans a 10-0 lead.
For the first time it seemed that a team that had placed its fate and its playoff hopes in this mild mannered rookie was going to be alright. The fans in Reliant seemed to think so too, as chants of “T.J., T.J., T.J.” dominated the atmosphere after his daring touchdown throw to Dreesen.
That particular throw had not been made in a game, but Dreesen and Yates had on worked on that very play the start of the season on Fridays following red zone practice.
“We’ve been throwing that pass for 13 weeks now,” Dreessen said. “So it was just like practice.”
The amazing thing is how unaffected and calm Yates was from start to finish even as he committed a costly turnover, got smashed on a blindsided hit from defensive end John Abraham, saw his best receiver Andre Johnson go down again with a hamstring injury and even after he led the offense on two critical touchdown drives.
“T.J. is great,” said tight end Owen Daniels. “He’s so cool in the huddle, even after he’s taken hits.”
Yates, who just happened to make his starting debut against his hometown Atlanta Falcons, said his even keel demeanor is just who he is.
“In my years of playing football I kind of realize if I’m amped up and kind of jumping around and stuff I don’t play as well as I should, especially with our offense as complicated as it is,” said Yates, who completed 12 of 15 passes for 188 yards and one touchdown. “You have to be level headed to be able to handle it. That’s how I’ve kind of been all my life and it translates well to football.”
It certainly served the Texans well at critical moments Sunday, especially on the game-sealing 19-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that began late in the third quarter and ended 10 minutes and 44 seconds later with 6:05 left in the game.
Yates made must-have throws, but more importantly he managed the game by taking advantage of the numerous receiving targets available which kept the defense honest enough to allow running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate to log clock-draining gaines.
What Yates also did well is show off his knack for the deep ball when he hit Johnson for a 50-yard pass down field on the stutter post, which set up Dreessen’s touchdown.
“He played a hell of game,” said Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson. “He came out and had all the confidence in the world. He made some big time throws in practice and he came out here and did the same thing. He came out and proved that he is a player.”
But first he proved in the meeting room on Saturday night when aced the quiz with Kubiak, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, quarterbacks coach Gregg Knapp and the two new quarterbacks in the room.
Knowing the youngster was well prepared gave everyone in and outside of the meeting room a hope and most important it gave Yates the confidence go out there and perform like it wasn’t his first time starting or just the second time he had ever seen live game action.
“It definitely gave me a lot of confidence,” said Yates, who helped guide the Texans to their sixth straight win and moved them one step closer to the franchises’ first playoff berth with his performance Sunday. “It gave the other guys a lot of confidence that going into the game I was prepared. Naturally there are going to be some questions with a guy in my situation going into a game. He was just reassuring my team that I was ready.”
“I had been preparing all week and preparing all season. The one thing that Kubiak, Kap and Coach Dennison do is they ask a lot of us mentally no matter if you are getting zero snaps or all the snaps so I’ve been ready for it.”
We’ll see just how ready when the trickier quiz No.2 comes up next week in the form of a hostile road game against the Cincinnati Bengals.