Texans follow their new leader
49ers clinch NFC West; Forte injured for Bears
Houston coach Gary Kubiak would’ve told anyone who asked that the Texans were going to be fine with rookie T.J. Yates playing quarterback.
He was right.
Yates threw a touchdown pass in his first NFL start, Arian Foster rushed for 111 yards, and Houston overcame another injury to Andre Johnson to beat Atlanta, 17-10, yesterday at Reliant Stadium.
The AFC South-leading Texans (9-3) have won a franchise-record six straight games, a remarkable feat considering they’re down to their third-string QB and have played many games without their star receiver.
The Falcons (7-5) sputtered on offense in losing for the second time in seven games. Houston’s top-ranked defense knocked down two passes by Matt Ryan in the end zone in the closing seconds and intercepted him twice.
Kubiak couldn’t bear to watch the final play, turning his back and walking down the sideline. When the ball hit the turf and the crowd cheered, general manager Rick Smith told Kubiak what happened and patted him on the back.
“It’s a great win,’’ Kubiak said, “because of everything this team has been through.’’
Yates went 12 of 25 for 188 yards and no interceptions, an impressively poised performance after a dizzying week.
The fifth-round pick out of North Carolina was thrust into his pro debut last week in Jacksonville when Matt Leinart broke his collarbone. Leinart was starting in place of Matt Schaub, who broke a Lisfranc joint in his right foot in Week 10.
“I was extremely comfortable out there [yesterday],’’ Yates said. “Coach Kubiak, throughout the week, we had a lot of talks and he instilled a lot of confidence in me.’’
Johnson looked like he’d be Yates’s go-to guy early, making leaping catches on the quarterback’s first two completions. The All-Pro receiver pulled in a perfect 50-yard pass from Yates to the Atlanta 5 in the second quarter, and Yates then snapped off a quick pass to tight end Joel Dreessen for his first career TD.
Johnson left in the third quarter after hurting his left hamstring. He injured his right hamstring in Week 4, underwent minor surgery, and sat out six games. Johnson will undergo tests today.
49ers 26, Rams 0
Host San Francisco (10-2) clinched the NFC West title on a record-setting day by Frank Gore, who became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. Gore gained 73 yards to push his career total to 7,396, Alex Smith threw two long touchdown passes in the second half, and David Akers kicked four field goals in a rout of St. Louis (2-10).
Jim Harbaugh joined George Seifert (1989) and Steve Mariucci (1997) as the only rookie coaches in franchise history to win the division. The only downer for the 49ers came when star linebacker Patrick Willis left in the first half with a right hamstring injury.
Chiefs 10, Bears 3
Tyler Palko shook off two miserable starts and threw for 157 yards and a touchdown even though he briefly got lifted for Kyle Orton, and Kansas City (5-7) beat host Chicago on a day when the Bears lost Matt Forte to a sprained right knee.
Orton came on to start the second quarter and immediately left the game after injuring a finger on his throwing hand. Palko connected with Dexter McCluster on a twice-deflected 38-yard scoring pass to end the first half, giving the Chiefs a 7-3 lead.
Already without injured quarterback Jay Cutler, Chicago (7-5) may have to survive without Forte for a while. The running back took a hit to his knee from the Chiefs’ Derrick Johnson during the first quarter and was taken to the locker room under his own power.
Cardinals 19, Cowboys 13
LaRod Stephens-Howling caught a short pass from Kevin Kolb and zipped 52 yards for a touchdown in overtime as Arizona (5-7) ended Dallas’s four-game winning streak. The Cowboys (7-5) lost for the third straight time to the Cardinals, but remained alone in first place in the NFC East because the Giants also lost.
Kolb completed 16 of 25 passes for 247 yards in his first game in five weeks. In overtime, he had a 16-yard pass to Andre Roberts and then threw a swing pass that Stephens-Howling took the distance.
Dan Bailey missed a 49-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation that would have won it for Dallas. His first try went through, but the Cowboys called time out before the play got off. The next try was short and left.
Steelers 35, Bengals 7
Host Pittsburgh (9-3) swept the season series from Cincinnati (7-5) for the second straight year behind a 28-point explosion in the second quarter, fueled by Ben Roethlisberger, running back Rashard Mendenhall, and a 60-yard punt return for a score by Antonio Brown.
Roethlisberger passed for two touchdowns, both to Mike Wallace, and set a team record for career completions (2,026). Mendenhall gave the Steelers the lead with a 3-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, and 2:35 later he scored on a 5-yard cutback run.
Ravens 24, Browns 10
Ray Rice rushed for a career-high 204 yards and visiting Baltimore kept pace with Pittsburgh in the AFC North by pounding Cleveland. Rice and Ricky Williams had short touchdown runs and Lardarius Webb returned a punt 68 yards for a TD for the Ravens (9-3), who racked up 290 yards on the ground.
Cleveland (4-8) lost for the fifth time in six games and has just three days to prepare for the Steelers.
Saints 31, Lions 17
Drew Brees became the first player in NFL history to reach 4,000 yards passing in his team’s first 12 games, finishing with 342 yards and three touchdowns as New Orleans improved to 9-3 overall and 6-0 at home.
Brees had scoring strikes of 67 yards to Robert Meachem, 20 yards to Lance Moore, and 6 yards to Darren Sproles. Matthew Stafford passed for 408 yards for the Lions (7-5), but with just one touchdown.
Dolphins 34, Raiders 14
Once-woeful Miami won for the fourth time in five games as Reggie Bush ran for 100 yards and a touchdown, Matt Moore had a hand in two TDs, and Kevin Burnett returned an interception 34 yards for the Dolphins’ final score.
Miami (4-8) scored twice before Oakland (7-5) had a first down. The Dolphins’ first two possessions ended in field goals and the third culminated with Moore’s 12-yard scoring pass to Davone Bess.
Titans 23, Bills 17
Chris Johnson rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns and Rob Bironas handled the rest of the scoring for Tennessee with three field goals. The Titans (7-5) turned two turnovers into 10 points while sending host Buffalo (5-7) to its fifth straight loss.
Panthers 38, Buccaneers 19
Cam Newton ran for three scores to set the NFL season record for rushing TDs by a quarterback with 13, and the rookie also threw a scoring pass and made a 27-yard reception to set up a first-quarter touchdown for Carolina (4-8) against host Tampa Bay (4-8).