Panthers 28, Texans 13: Concerns Mount at QB, Kicker As Playoffs Approach
The Texans are three weeks from postseason play and have rapidly intensifying concerns at quarterback and placekicker, two of the most critical playoff positions.
Photos by Marco Torres Rookie T.J. Yates looked very rookie-esque.
It may not be time to panic, but a regular season that seems certain to end with a No. 3 playoff seed still holds significant questions that the Texans must soon answer.
It wasn't just that they lost Sunday for the first time in eight games. It was the way the Texans (10-4) went down, revealing two potentially enormous holes for which they likely lack reasonable alternatives.
For the first time since his debut three weeks ago in Jacksonville, rookie quarterback T.J. Yates played like a fifth-round rookie. And the performance might've been worse than the numbers indicated.
He was 19-of-30 for 212 yards with two interceptions. But of the 19 completions, more than half (10) went to running backs or fullback Lawrence Vickers. On the whole, Yates's inability to stretch the field was reminiscent of, well, his predecessor Matt Leinart.
The absence of star wideout Andre Johnson isn't an acceptable excuse. Yates had open receivers all over the field against a depleted Carolina secondary -- particularly tight ends Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen -- but either couldn't identify them or misfired on the throw.
A particularly brutal attempt came on a Texan field-goal drive late in the third quarter, when Daniels was left all alone behind the Carolina defense but Yates short-armed the pass.
Cam Newtown continued to impress.
"I just got to be able to see the game better," Yates said after the game. "It's hard to put your finger on. I wish I knew why I was always off. You got to go back at the film. Maybe it's footwork, maybe it's mechanics. We'll be able to look at the film and fix it and move on."
It's not time for head coach Gary Kubiak to pull the plug on Yates, who played very well in wins over Atlanta and Cincinnati. That's especially true considering backups Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia each have less than a month's experience with the Texan offense.
But whether he publicly admits it or not, Kubiak should remain open to the idea if similar struggles occur Thursday at 1-13 Indianapolis.
Both backups are veterans with NFL postseason experience, and it's not as if the Houston offense requires Tom Brady to be efficient. Even without Johnson, options roamed wide open in the Carolina secondary for nearly the entire second half.
Yates simply couldn't make routine reads and throws, and any chance of a rally was lost.
"He played like a young player today," Kubiak said of Yates. "He did not play as sharp, read-wise and stuff. I don't know if that's getting a little rattled early in the game or what, I don't know. But, we had our opportunities for some big plays and we didn't make them. So he's got to play a lot better. "
This wasn't just a story of the Texans coming out flat following the biggest win in franchise history, as many fans and local media members argued following the game. There's some truth in it, of course, as evidenced by the immediate 7-0 hole that the Texans dug themselves following an Arian Foster fumble.
But in the big picture, the team did much of what it needed to do. The Texans held a prolific Carolina offense to 316 yards, and Foster rushed 16 times for 109 yards and a touchdown -- one of his better outings of the 2011 season.
The difference came in the efficiency. When the Panthers had the ball in a position to score, they used imaginative playcalling and timely throws from Cam Newton to score touchdowns on all four occasions.