Twenty-eight minutes and fifteen seconds.
That’s how long Matt Leinart’s first NFL start since 2009 lasted.
Jacksonville’s Jeremy Mincey drove Leinart’s throwing shoulder into the ground after an incomplete pass Sunday, fracturing Leinart’s collarbone to end his season only two weeks after starter Matt Schaub suffered a Lisfranc injury that ended his year.
Who the heck is T.J. Yates?
He’s a fifth-round draft pick who played only one season of high school football, accepted the only FCS offer he had and went on to shatter just about every passing record possible (37 in all) at the University of North Carolina.
And when he leads the Houston offense onto the field against Atlanta, he’ll become the first Tar Heel ever to start an NFL game at quarterback.
Not what you want when you’re tied for the best record in the AFC and rolling toward your first-ever division title. But these are desperate times in Houston — as evidenced by the fact that you know who’s name is being bandied about — and at the moment, Yates is the only guy the Texans have to throw out there.
Can he keep the Texans on course?
In a little over one half of play Sunday, Yates completed 8 of 15 passes for 70 yards. Nothing special, but it was his first NFL action and the Texans were playing with the lead and leaning heavily on Arian Foster and the running game.
Look for the latter to continue with the 24-year-old Yates at the helm. With Foster and Ben Tate, the Texans have the third-best rushing offense in the NFL. Their ability to pound the ball on the ground should help ease the transition for Yates and allow him to target Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and the rest of the receiving corps with play-action.
And if there’s one thing Yates doesn’t lack, it’s the experience of throwing to NFL receivers. At North Carolina his receiving corps included the likes of Hakeem Nicks, Greg Little and Brandon Tate.
In the last of his four years as UNC’s starter, Yates dealt with his fair share of adversity. The team’s starting lineup was nearly stripped bare due to an NCAA investigation, but Yates still led the Tar Heels to a victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl and was one late completion away from knocking off LSU.
He’s not the least bit mobile, but neither is Schaub (15 carries for nine yards this season). Although he’ll need to keep his head on a swivel in the pocket to avoid the injury bug that continues to ravage this Texans team.
Head coach Gary Kubiak said the team will sign another quarterback this week — a good idea considering tight end Owen Daniels was the team’s third-string option on Sunday. But Yates will get the first crack.
And if you think mediocre quarterback play can’t get it done in the playoffs, there’s always Trent Dilfer and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. And who better to comment on Yates’ prospects?
“This guy is a special player,” the QB-turned-ESPN analyst said. “You look for a couple of things for a future starter — unique physical traits and a tremendous will and intangible makeup. T.J. Yates has both. This kid is the toughest kid in the draft at quarterback outside Jake Locker. I would love to coach me some T.J. Yates”
Best-case scenario: Yates leads the Texans into the playoffs, connecting with Johnson for big plays when needed and letting Foster and Tate do the heavy lifting on offense.
Worst-case scenario: The Texans bring back Sage Rosenfels or someone else and try to get him up to speed as quickly as possible so the wheels don’t fall off Houston’s playoff bandwagon.
Will Yates keep the job? Will the Texans sign a veteran like Rosenfels, Daunte Culpepper, Jeff Garcia (or that guy who does the Wrangler commercials)? Will they lose their grip on the top spot in the AFC South and miss the playoffs?