T.J. Yates' rookie season has been draped in history ever since he threw down his clipboard and baseball cap in Week 12 and without so much as a warm up, preserved the Texans' victory over Jacksonville.
Yates followed his first NFL appearance by directing fourth quarter drives in his next two starts, a feat that had not been accomplished by a rookie since 1968 when Virgil Carter won back-to-back games for the Chicago Bears.
The Texans beat Atlanta 17-10 with Yates leading the game winning drive. The following week, Yates etched himself into Texans' lore with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Walter with two seconds to play that gave the Texans their first division title and playoff berth.
"It's been a long season," Yates said. "Even though I haven't played all season, I don't feel like a rookie any more. I've had a long time to get acclimated to this offense and the teammates around me so hopefully going into these playoffs I don't have those rookie feelings anymore."
Saturday afternoon, Yates will join Cincinnati's Andy Dalton to make more NFL history when they become the first rookie quarterbacks to start for their teams in a Super Bowl-era playoff game.
Not bad for a rookie fifth round draft choice who spent the first 10 games of his pro career on the inactive list. His next rookie challenge will be to maintain his now famous poise in the Texans (and his) first playoff game.
"There is a lot of stuff going around the organization, hype, getting ready for the playoffs and how we've played recently," Yates said. "But this team is ready to play. We had a great day of practice today. Everybody has one focus, getting ready for the game on Saturday."
Yates made a good early impression on his teammates when he ran onto the field for his first play in the NFL after backup Matt Leinart suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second quarter against the Jaguars.
"The first time he came in the huddle after Leinart went down, he had a smile on his face and it's like 'hey guys, let's go,'" wide receiver Andre Johnson said. "Most rookies come in nervous and that's something you don't see in him. If he is nervous he does a great job hiding.
"Most third string quarterbacks aren't able to come in and play like he's been playing."
There have been moments when Yates' confidence might have waivered, but never snapped.
"There have been times when I've made mistakes out there but having these players and this coaching staff that believe in me helps," Yates said. "A lot of times you get shaken a little bit when you make mistakes out there on the field that cause you to lose some ball games, but the team has been great."
Yates has performed beyond his experience. The Texans' coaching staff had confidence in the rookie fifth round pick from North Carolina after seeing him work through adversity in college. Still, seeing it happen on the field was a relief.
"The biggest thing is to watch him go from a meeting at 11 o'clock to the field at 12 o'clock and perform a game plan and that's hard to do. It normally takes a good night for a good veteran player to do that pretty quick. He's starting to show signs of doing that. His preparation is excellent and he's got a lot of guys helping."
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has appreciated Yates' ability to bounce back.
"It's his resilience," Dennison said. "He's tough as nails. If something doesn't come right away, he keeps working at it. You never have to correct him twice. You do it one time and he understands. He studies hard. He's taken the examples of Matt (Schaub) and the other Matt (Leinart) have done before him. He knows how well you have to be prepared to win the game."
Yates left the Texans' regular season ending 23-22 loss to Tennessee on Sunday with a non-throwing shoulder injury. He went through a regular practice on Tuesday.
"He took his full arsenal of reps and at the same time we are giving Jake (Delhomme) reps, which has been the part of the routine the last few weeks," Kubiak said. "But he was fine. He's done everything that he was asked to do on a Wednesday."
Teammates have gained added respect for Yates as he has worked through his first season. But they never lacked confidence.
"I don't think it (lack of confidence) was ever not there," running back Arian Foster said. "I remember when he first came in against Jacksonville in that two minute drive. That's his first action and he's leading us down the field to try to score before the half.
"I never saw any kink in his armor. He's young. He's going to make mistakes. I'm going to make mistakes. It's all how he comes back and he always comes back well."
Mistakes have been the hardest part for Yates to stomach but he's rallied through a series of growing pains.
"Having some of those growing pains at the wrong time was hurtful to the team," Yates said. "But every single game I've played, whether I've played bad or good, I've been learning every week."
One of Yates' crowning moments in his brief career was the division clinching drive against the Bengals in the final seconds. That could help them on Saturday.
"Having success against them before is definitely a lot for our confidence, knowing that we can move the ball," Yates said. "In that game, we did a lot of bad things to put ourselves in bad situations with turnovers and negative plays but we knew we were moving the ball great that day."
Yates and Dalton have taken different paths to their first NFL playoff game.
Dalton, a second round pick from Texas Christian and nearby Katy , charged out of Texas Christian into an immediate starting job with the Cincinnati Bengals. Dalton started all 16 games and could rival Carolina's Cam Cameron for Rookie of the Year honors.
"I've gotten to know him (Yates) through the whole process of everything," Dalton said. "He's a good guy. He's done a really good job for them and he's been playing well. It's going to be fun to go against a guy I've watched play in college and gone through the same thing being rookies. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Yates said he first met Dalton at a Peyton Manning passing academy.
"He's a great football player," Yates said. "He's a smart football player. He knows where to go with the football. They have some great weapons on offense. A.J. Green is a great wide receiver and he does a great job of getting him the ball . He's not playing like a rookie."
And neither is Yates.
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.