Yates struggles as Texans’ magical season comes to an end

It’s a shame T.J. Yates will be remembered for his performance in Baltimore. Yes, he made mistakes, three of them, in fact. Yes, all three were costly, as the first two interceptions led to points for the Ravens, while the other clinched Baltimore’s 20-13 victory Sunday.

But underneath those glaring miscues is a rookie quarterback, one who began the season as his team’s third-string option, one who led the Texans to their first-ever divisional crown and playoff appearance and one who looks to have a bright future in the National Football League.

At times he looked great. He led the Texans offense against one of the league’s top defenses and, despite three interceptions, had his team in position for the game-tying score late in the fourth quarter. His 17 completions, paired with 132 yards from running back Arian Foster, manufactured three scoring drives for his team, including a 1-yard scamper from Foster and a pair of field goals from kicker Neil Rackers.

Still the turnovers plagued the Texans, beginning with Jacoby Jones’ muffed punt in the first quarter, which led to the game’s opening touchdown. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hit third-string tight end Kris Wilson on a 1-yard pass, giving Baltimore a 7-3 lead.

The first quarter ended with two more scores for the home team, including one set up by an interception from cornerback Lardarius Webb, putting Yates and Co. into a 17-3 hole after only 15 minutes. In the second quarter, however, the Texans came together. Rackers connected on a 40-yard field goal followed by a touchdown run from Foster as Houston cut the deficit to 17-13 at halftime.

After the offensive explosion in the opening two quarters, the second half saw both defenses take control. No score in the third quarter meant a tight game heading into the final 15 minutes, as Yates and the Texans had a chance to tie the game at 20 a piece in the final few minutes.

Houston found itself in Baltimore territory, as Yates fired back to sling a pass down the right sideline, hoping to find the hands of Andre Johnson. Instead, it was safety Ed Reed’s hands that found the ball, Yates’ third and final turnover of the day, which would go on to seal the loss for the Texans.

With the win, Baltimore will travel to New England to face the top-seeded Patriots in next week’s AFC Championship. New England knocked off Denver 45-10 on Saturday night. For the Texans, meanwhile, a season that ends in disappointment should hopefully blossom into promise down the road. Matt Schaub will return healthy, and with an offense that still has a lethal rushing attack and one of the game’s top receivers in Johnson.

Defensively, this may be the most improved unit in the league this season. After scraping the bottom of the NFL rankings in every category a year ago, Houston’s defense this season was impressive and proved so again in the loss to the Ravens. The Texans sacked Flacco five times and surrendered only 60 yards to running back Ray Rice. J.J. Watt leads a talented group of young stars in the front seven, while cornerback Jonathan Joseph anchors a secondary that should contend for another AFC South crown in 2012. For now, however, the Texans are left to lick their wounds, while the Ravens move on, one step closer to Super Bowl XLVI.