Not only did rookie quarterback T.J. Yates–in his second career professional start–lead Houston on a last-minute, game-winning scoring drive to come from behind and defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 20-19, but he also happened to lead the 10-3 Texans to its first-ever playoff appearance.
The victory, and Tennessee's 22-17 loss to New Orleans shortly afterwards, allowed Yates' Texans to clinch the AFC South division for the first time since entering the league as an expansion team in 2002.
After what seemed to be a long 13 weeks, constantly battling numerous injuries to key players, the 2011 Texans have finally reached a milestone the previous nine Texans teams failed to do. And the scary part about it may in fact be that they could make a deep run in the postseason.
Without All Pro outside linebacker Mario Williams, Houston's leading sacker over the last four seasons, who has been out of the lineup since being placed on the injured reserve on October 10 (pectoral), the Texans' defense has yet to lose a step.
As a defensive unit, Houston is currently ranked No. 1 in total yardage allowed (3,574), fourth in scoring (16.0 PPG), third in passing yards (2,385), t-third in passing TDs (13), fourth in rushing yards (1,189), t-third in rushing TDs (6) and t-fifth in turnovers forced (25).
That's top six in each of the eight statistical categories that I believe are most vital in having a successful defensive unit. One that would be durable enough, with overall talent across the board, to make a run at a championship. We've seen teams with great defenses win championships without a very strong quarterback before, and I think this squad is capable of repeating history.
Just think: '85 Bears, '00 Ravens, '07 Giants. They all had quarterbacks that played average football–at best–all season, but thanks to strong support from the running game and history-making defenses (Da Bears and Ravens) were able to hoist the Lombardi trophy at the end of the season.
'85 McMahon: 56.9%, 2,392 yards, 15 TD, 11 INT, 82.6 QBR in 11 starts
'00 Dilfer: 59.3%, 1,502 yards, 12 TD, 11 INT, 76.6 QBR in eight starts
'07 Manning: 56.1%, 3,336 yards, 23 TD, 20 INT, 73.9 QBR in 16 starts
The difference between these teams and other teams, not just the Super Bowl championship, was the fact that they relied more heavily on the running game than the arm of their passer. Not to mention, of course, a great defense that helped pull off some improbable wins in some cases (*cough, cough* Giants over Pats in 2007 Super Bowl *cough, cough*).
What has impressed me so far in Yates' first two starts is not that he has thrown spectacular passes in tight coverage, because he hasn't really had to do much of that quite yet. Rather, it's that he's been protecting the football and limited the turnovers to a minimal. Other than his two lost fumbles and one interception over the last two weeks, Yates has shown he has the leadership to rally the team around him.
Just three turnovers in two games for a guy that was practically thrown overboard in to a pond of sharks, being a rookie quarterback with minimal experience and all, is pretty impressive I'd say.
If Yates can continue to protect the ball and simply manage the game we could be seeing more record-breaking performances from this team in the coming weeks. I have yet to even mention that he threw 44 passes in this past weekend's victory–Houston's franchise-record seventh straight.
Arian Foster, Ben Tate and Derrick Ward lead one of the NFL's most potent rushing attacks. Foster's 957 yards and eight TDs leaves him on the verge of his second consecutive 1,000-yard, double-digit TD season–he led the league in both categories last season as a second-year pro.
Speaking of second-year pro, backup Ben Tate, playing his first complete season after missing all of last year due to injury, has added 820 yards and three TDs on the ground. Tate, carrying the ball 146 times this season, has put up a yards per carry average of 5.6, which is the best in the league.
So even without Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub (2,479 yards, 15 TD, 6 INT, 96.8 QBR in 10 starts), backup quarterback Matt Leinart (57 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT on 13 pass attempts), All Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson (31 Rec., 471 yards, 2 TD in six starts) on offense, this team has the ability to drive down the field and put points up on the board via the run game.
And on defense? Well, it looks like they have been doing just fine without Williams' 192 tackles, 53 sacks and 11 forced fumbles since his '06 rookie season. Linebackers Connor Barwin (career-high 9.5 sacks) and rookie Brooks Reed (6.0 sacks) have stepped it up in replace of Williams. With 36, Houston currently has the sixth-most QB sacks in the league and continue to turn the ball over often.
Houston has the right formula, and is easily the team to beat in the AFC right now. It will be a joy for any football follower to finally get to witness the Texans in the playoffs this year.
T.J. Yates: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Brooks Reed: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images