After enjoying a run of seven consecutive victories that propelled them to their first AFC South title in franchise history Cinderella turned back into a pumpkin a bit Sunday as the Houston Texans fell to the Carolina Panthers 28-13, dropping the Texans to 10-4 and, for the moment at least, knocking them from contention for a first-round bye in the AFC.
The Texans' success this season has been all the more remarkable given the injuries that have struck their offense, which has been without running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson for significant stretches this year. They lost both starting quarterback Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart to season-ending injuries.
Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates had played well since being pressed into action under center, winning all three games in which he'd played. But the former North Carolina standout struggled against the Panthers, failing to throw a touchdown pass while tossing a pair of interceptions, including a costly fourth-quarter pick in the end zone that snuffed out a Houston rally.
Many pundits wondered why the Texans didn't make an effort to sign another quarterback after Schaub and Leinart went down. While the Texans did bring veterans Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia on board, the 36 year-old Delhomme has looked absolutely horrendous the past few years and the 41-year-old Garcia hasn't thrown a pass in the NFL since 2008, so they were likely brought on board more as mentors than as players the Texans ever expected to see on the field.
Yates had made the point moot with his strong showing before this week, but as his struggles today demonstrate, the fact remains that he is a rookie quarterback. Rookie quarterbacks generally struggle in the NFL, and those struggles could mean an early playoff exit, especially should the Texans draw a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens in the first round.
This is by no means a knock on Yates, as the fifth-round pick has played about as well as could possibly be expected. The free agent options available to Houston may not have blown anyone's proverbial socks off, but the Texans may well regret their decision not to at least explore some of those options, as the basket where they placed all their eggs may have just sprung a leak.