Matt Leinart and Matt Schaub stood next to each other for the final few snaps, Leinart in a sling and Schaub in a walking boot.
The scene spoke volumes about Houston’s quarterback situation and playoff chances.
If the Texans are going to make the postseason for the first time in franchise history, they probably will have to do it with a third-string quarterback.
Leinart injured his throwing shoulder Sunday at Jacksonville, overshadowing Houston’s 20-13 victory against the offensively inept Jaguars. Leinart believes he broke his collarbone, but coach Gary Kubiak said initial X-rays were inconclusive.
”There’s a pretty strong possibility I probably won’t be coming back this season,” Leinart said. ”It’s pretty disappointing. It’s tough to swallow, but we’ll just move forward. Everything that’s happened to me, this was a great opportunity. … It’s unfortunate, but I’m not going to give up. It’s not my nature. I’ll just keep moving forward and figure this thing out one step at a time.”
Assuming Leinart is done for the season, it would be a serious setback for a team that is closing in on its first AFC South title. Sure, the Texans have one of the league’s best running games. But as Jacksonville showed, Arian Foster and Ben Tate will have a tough time carrying the load against eight- and nine-man fronts.
Foster ran for 65 yards and a score. Tate added 26 yards on the ground. Along with Leinart’s perfect touchdown pass to Joel Dreessen and a defensive effort that included seven sacks – Connor Barwin had four of them – it was enough for Houston to win its fifth consecutive game.
But with Schaub (foot) and Leinart out, the Texans are down to T.J. Yates and newly signed Kellen Clemens.
Yates completed 8 of 15 passes for 70 yards in relief of Leinart, doing just enough to help the Texans beat the Jaguars (3-8). Houston led 20-10 at halftime, but managed just 47 yards and two first downs in the second half.
”I feel for Matt. He was playing good,” Yates said. ”If there’s one thing that this team knows how to do, it’s deal with adversity. We’ve taken an injury almost every game of the year and the team has rallied around each other and found a way to win.”
Jacksonville’s quarterback situation was a mess, too.
Coach Jack Del Rio benched rookie Blaine Gabbert in the fourth quarter, after six sacks and an interception. Luke McCown led the team to a late field goal, but his fourth-down pass with about a minute remaining fell incomplete.
Del Rio said Gabbert remains the team’s starter.
”Offensively, we just are struggling to generate enough productivity to have any fun,” Del Rio said. ”It’s tough to win in this league when you’re not scoring. … We are working hard at it, but we are just not making enough plays.”
Leinart, making his first start in two years, was hit hard by defensive end Jeremy Mincey late in the second quarter. He went to the sideline, headed to the locker room for tests and did not return.
Leinart completed 10 of 13 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown, a 20-yard pass to Dreessen under heavy pressure. He got hurt on the next possession.
Yates replaced him and drove the Texans into position for a field goal that put them ahead 20-10 at the break.
Jacksonville outgained Houston 255-215 in total yards. But Josh Scobee missed a 55-yard field goal and tight end Marcedes Lewis dropped a pass in the end zone with no one around him. It was the latest in a growing list of drops for the former Pro Bowl tight end. His latest one prompted Jacksonville to settle for a short field goal.
”It was a leak here, a leak there and we never really got clicking,” guard Uche Nwaneri said.
McCown, named the starter five days before the season opener and then benched after two games, was 7 of 11 passing for 62 yards in two series. Gabbert was 13 of 29 for 136 yards.
Maurice Jones-Drew was the lone bright spot for Jacksonville’s offense. He ran 18 times for 99 yards and caught four passes for 67 more.
”A quarterback is only as good as the players around him,” Jones-Drew said. ”When they pull your quarterback, they are saying something about you. It’s not the quarterback. We have to continue to work to get better with whoever is going to be the starter next week.”
Jacksonville’s only touchdown came on Ashton Youboty’s 38-yard fumble return on the opening series. Foster fumbled for the first time in 172 carries this season, coughing up the ball on Paul Posluszny’s tackle.
Foster bounced back with a 43-yard gain on the next possession and later scored on a 1-yard plunge. It was his fifth consecutive game with a rushing touchdown.
”I’m very proud of this team,” Kubiak said. ”It’s hard to win in this league, and when you face some of the adversity we’ve faced and will be facing again, and to continue to find a way to win, that’s a sign of a very solid football team.”
Notes: Texans WR Andre Johnson, back in the starting lineup after missing six games because of a hamstring injury, caught two passes for 22 yards. … Rackers’ 53-yard FG tied the franchise record. … Jaguars C Brad Meester played in his 172nd career game, breaking the previous franchise record held by Jimmy Smith. … Jones-Drew has 1,040 yards rushing, his third consecutive 1,000-yard season.