JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Houston Texans' third-string quarterback felt compelled to take some snaps from center Chris Myers during intermission on Sunday.
Tight end Owen Daniels sure hoped he wasn’t needed, but with Matt Leinart out and rookie T.J. Yates the only other active quarterback dressed for the game, he knew he was one play away from potential action.
“I was just trying to stay focused on my job at the current time,” Daniels said after the Texans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-13 at EverBank Stadium. “But if the worst-case scenario came along, our coaches make sure we know the game plan pretty well. I had confidence that I could go in there and hand the ball off or maybe make a simple throw.”
The Texans were conservative with Leinart in his first start in place of injured starter Matt Schaub. They were even more conservative when they had to turn to Yates, who was in uniform for his first NFL regular-season game.
The fifth-round draft pick out of North Carolina hit 8 of 15 passes for 70 yards and played well enough to help his team turn a 20-10 lead, built while Leinart was in the game, into the win.
Now they are prepared to go forward with Yates as their starter. Multiple reports quickly surfaced that Leinart was finished for the season with a left collarbone injury, one he suffered in 2007 with Arizona. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported "all indications are it's broken."
Gary Kubiak was unwilling to share details of Leinart's injury, suffered as he was hit by Jeremy Mincey. The coach said the X-rays from EverBank Stadium were unclear, which sounded a little like a dog-ate-my-homework deal once Leinart spoke.
“I think there is a pretty strong possibility that I won’t be coming back this season,” Leinart said. “But we’ll see what the doctor says.”
So the Texans will likely move on with their third starting quarterback in three games.
“It’s why we drafted him,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said of Yates. “He’s a calm guy, he’s a smart guy and he knows what we do. We’ll see how it goes the next couple days, the next week. If that’s what we have, that’s what we’ll get done.”
The Texans signed Kellen Clemens to be their third quarterback after Schaub went on IR last week. Now they will shop again, and a newcomer will have a chance to challenge Clemens to be Yates’ backup. (Clemens was inactive Sunday as the Houston suited up two quarterbacks, just as it has all year.)
Barring a clean X-ray from Houston that overrides what Leinart was feeling, it will be Yates who gets the call next week against Atlanta and beyond. The Texans prefer a quarterback who’s spent time studying their system and understanding its nuances. They believe such a guy can fit in well with a team that can win by featuring the run game and strong defense. They believe that’s better than a big-name quarterback outsider who is unfamiliar with what Kubiak, Dennison and quarterback coach Gregg Knapp do.
Instead, expect a more open game plan for Yates.
Right tackle Eric Winston said the Texans were wary of anything against the Jaguars that could get Yates hurt because they didn’t want to test Daniels’ quarterbacking skills. It’s a mistake, Winston emphasized, to put too much in to what the rookie did, or didn’t do.
“I think next week you’ll see a much different T.J. because he can make some huge throws,” Winston said. “He’s much more athletic than Schaub or Leinart. That will work well with some of what we do. He can get out of the pocket, he can make some throws. I am not worried at all. I think that he'll meld well with what we’re doing in the play-action game.”
They Texans can’t oversimplify game plans. Those plans don’t have to be 100-plays deep, and the Texans don’t need 100 plays to win.
But he is surrounded by a better team. He spent a good share of the summer during the lockout working with Schaub and Dan Orlovsky in Houston. And he has run the scout team for the bulk of the season.
“T.J. man, he’s a professional NFL quarterback,” defensive back Sherrick McManis said. “He’s definitely got room for improvement and needs time to grow like most of us. But on scout team he’s done exactly what he’s supposed to do.”
Yates said while that work is intended to mimic the opponent of the week, the Texans do their best to shape it for him in a way that translates to their own scheme.
“Every week we try to get the same things from our offense into other offenses,” he said. “Kind of tie it into our offense as much as possible.”
After running eight plays at the end of the second quarter, Yates returned to the field after the half with Schaub.
Schaub, who’s wearing a protective boot on his right foot and will soon have surgery, told Yates that a lot of people will tell him how to move forward. Houston’s starting quarterback told him: Stay calm, be confident in yourself, you’re ready to play, don’t think too much.
He did well enough.
Now the expectation is he will step into the spotlight and be under far greater scrutiny.
Next week against the Falcons is a game the Texans might have lost even with Schaub. A trip to Cincinnati the week after won’t be easy either.
Then, however, the team that would be the AFC’s top seed if the playoffs started today finishes with Carolina at home, a trip to Indianapolis, and Tennessee at home.
Houston might still win 10 or 11 games with Yates at quarterback.
What it can do if it wins the AFC South and goes to the playoffs will be a much different question.
“They have a big-time offensive line and a great running game, but in our league you’ve got to be able to do both,” Jacksonville linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “They are a good team. They’ve scored a lot of points in the past.
“But a lot of that, I think, was because Schaub does a great job managing that offense. That’ll be a challenge for them for sure.”