*Watch head coach Gary Kubiak's Monday press conference live on Texans TV at 3:30 p.m. CT.
The Texans had a simple formula for beating the Atlanta Falcons: play stout defense and give the ball to Arian Foster
The defense did its part and Foster did too, especially in the fourth quarter when the game was tied. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates handed the ball repeatedly to Foster, who had two key runs and then scored the winning touchdown in a 17-10 victory.
“Any time your number is called in a situation like that you are happy,” Foster said. “We stepped up and got it done as a team. The line got great push and that makes my job easy.”
The Texans united around Yates, making his first NFL start, and scratched out a 10-3 first half lead on Neil Rackers
’ 43-yard field goal and Yates’ 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joel Dreessen
But the Falcons fought back late in the third quarter when Roddy White caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan for a 10-10 deadlock. The momentum seemed to be shifting to the Falcons.
“Any time your number is called in a situation like that you are happy,” Foster said. “We stepped up and got it done as a team. The line got great push and that makes my job easy."
That’s when the Texans embarked on a marathon 19-play, 85-yard drive, leaning heavily on Foster’s running.
“We knew we had to respond,” left tackle Duane Brown
said. “We knew we couldn’t come off the field without any points. When you get a job like that it takes the wind out of a team, especially a defense. They were backing up and we were getting the run going. We took advantage.”
The hair-raising drive had its tense moments. Facing third-and-nine at the Atlanta 30, Foster broke for 12 yards. Facing fourth-and-one at the nine, Foster ran seven yards to the two and then scored the go ahead touchdown with 6:05 remaining in the game on a one-yard run.
“You’ve got to give Arian and Ben (Tate) a lot of credit,” Brown said. “Some of those holes were hard to find. They did a great job of getting those third and shorts and those fourth and shorts before we could get that long drive going.
“We take a lot of pride in those short yards. We didn’t want to get three, we wanted seven.”
got fewer carries than in previous games but added 41 yards on 11 carries to help wear down the Falcons.
“That’s the good thing about having two running backs of our caliber,” Tate said. “We could definitely tell in the fourth quarter that they were wearing down. We got the win and that’s all that matters. I’m out here trying to do everything I can to help the team take another step to making the playoffs.”
Houston’s defense enjoyed watching the long drive that took 10:41 off the clock and gave them a rest.
“That drive gave our defense a chance to rest,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans
said. “After that, we knew we had to go out and finish it.”
The Falcons were throwing into the end zone until the final second but their fate was sealed and the Texans proved they could produce against a good defense.
Atlanta entered the game with the second ranked rushing defense in the league, allowing 83 yards per game and the Falcons hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 14 straight games.
The Texans rushed for 162 yards on 44 carries and Foster had 111 yards on 31 carries.
“I think we established what we wanted to do in the first half,” Foster said. “It’s always good when you can stay on the field and rest your defense and the defense is playing lights out. Any time you can rest them and put points on the board, it’s good for everybody.”
The Texans were aware they needed to be strong with Yates replacing injured starter Matt Schaub
and backup Matt Leinart
“That’s what the NFL is about,” Brown said. “The game is won or lost in the trenches. We knew it was T.J’s first start. We knew it starts with us up front.”
Foster saw the game as another complete team effort between offense and defense.
“The chemistry and camaraderie we are displaying, it’s fun to be a part of,” Foster said. “We feed off each other. I find myself watching the defense because I enjoy watching them play and vice versa. They probably like watching us play.
“It’s fun. Anytime you have chemistry like that you give yourself an extra chance.”
The Texans kept moving despite mounting injuries. Andre Johnson
, in his second game back after missing six games with a hamstring injury, injured his other hamstring late in the third quarter.
“That’s the NFL injury wise,” Foster said. “This year we’ve just had a lot of marquee injuries but everybody keeps stepping up. That’s attributed to who’s at the helm and that’s coach Gary Kubiak on down, the coaches preparing the guys underneath them to step up and I think as long as we do we’ll be successful.”
And another thing…
“You got to stop calling him a third-string rookie quarterback,” Foster said. “He’s first string now. He’s a starter in the league and I think he deserves that respect.”
The Texans motto of “next man up” is still working.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.