AFC South: Vince Ferragamo

A.J. Yates and Vince FerragamoGetty ImagesHouston's T.J. Yates, left, finds himself leading a contender, as the Rams' Vince Ferragamo did in '79.
The presumption is doom.

No team with a third-string quarterback at the helm, a rookie, no less, is going anywhere.

But T.J. Yates and the Houston Texans will set about trying to disprove that theory starting Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons at Reliant Stadium

The Texans have lost Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart for the season in consecutive games. Now a team with the NFL’s top defense and third-ranked rush offense moves forward with Yates.

In a year when Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder have played well as full-time rookies and Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker were top draft picks, Yates was the eighth quarterback selected and the 152nd player drafted.

He worked as the third quarterback until Schaub’s injury, not dressing for games and running the scout team in practices.

Plugging him in as the lead guy is hardly something the Texans envisioned, and hardly the sort of thing seen around the league.

One team that experienced similar circumstances was the 1979 Los Angeles Rams.

After losing Pat Haden to injury in Week 10 that season and then getting an ineffective start from Jeff Rutledge in a Week 11 loss tot the Chicago Bears, the Rams turned over the starting job to Vince Ferragamo, then a third-year pro who had never started an NFL game before.

Ferragamo posted a 4-1 record over the remainder of the regular season as the Rams won the NFC West. They then beat the Cowboys in Dallas and the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay in the NFC playoffs before they fell to the Steelers, 31-19, in Super Bowl XIV.

Someone asked Yates, who was born in 1987, if he knew who Ferragamo was. He said no. Relayed Ferragamo's story, he said simply, "sweet."

Can Yates do anything similar?

Schaub thinks the rookie is equipped to succeed.

“The one thing that I’ve observed, I’ve been in this type of offense now … all the way back into my college days. T.J., for being a rookie, he’s probably picked this offense up to the point where he can function in it well, faster than anyone I’ve seen, including myself, including a lot of players that I’ve been around,” Schaub told KILT radio in Houston this week. “That’s a big credit to him, because this is not an easy offense to pick up. … I, personally, have a ton of confidence that he’s going to go in there and play very well.”

It’s not just the understanding, though. Right tackle Eric Winston said Yates is the most athletic of the Texans’ top three quarterbacks. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. likes Yates’ arm: “He throws the ball quite well and should be able to get the ball to where it needs to be.” And everyone is talking about the youngester's calm, a key quarterback quality.

The Texans regard themselves as having supreme resolve, and they should. Their top players on offense have missed time -- receiver Andre Johnson was out six games with a hamstring injury and running back Arian Foster missed two and hardly played in one with a hamstring injury -- and outside linebacker Mario Williams was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered Oct. 19 against Oakland.

Kansas City probably didn’t come into the season with as much talent as the Texans. But the Chiefs won their division and appeared in the playoffs last season. This season they’ve lost safety Eric Berry, tight end Tony Moeaki, running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Matt Cassel for the season along the way in their follow-up year.

They are 4-7, tied with San Diego at the bottom of the AFC West.

Houston’s had far better results overcoming injuries.

The mantra is how it’s about the team.

“They know how big the challenge is this weekend, but [they are a] very upbeat group, very positive group,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “… It’s a new world for [Yates]. Last week, he’s getting more reps because he’s the backup. All of a sudden, he’s running the team [Wednesday] and got a lot on his plate, mentally from leaving the classroom to coming out here, but he did fine. He’ll get better every day out here, and that’s the most important thing. The key is everybody else making sure they do their job.”

Said Yates: “Everybody around me is very confident. You can tell this team hasn’t really skipped a beat as far as intensity or tempo at practice. Nothing seems different except for it’s just a different guy at quarterback.”

Atlanta is the toughest team the Texans will have faced in some time. It’s a game they could have lost even with Schaub healthy. If they lose it with Yates it will hardly be a season-killer.

They simply need to see he can manage the game, maintain the calm they’ve lauded, and can make enough throws to make a defense either stay honest or pay the price for loading up the box with an eighth defender to slow Foster and Ben Tate.

If Yates does that, he can be enough.

If he does that, the Texans will have a chance to make us talk more about how he and the Texans can compare to Ferragamo and those Rams.

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