Ryan Fitzpatrick is on track to renew acquaintances with his former team. The Houston Texans may be feeling a little reminiscent as well.
The Jets’ quarterback situation has become clear, while the Texans’ is still clouded by a health issue going into Sunday’s matchup at NRG Stadium.
Houston (4-5) has climbed back into the AFC South race by virtue of a 3-1 stretch coinciding with Brian Hoyer’s reinstallment as starting QB. The Texans moved into a tie with Indianapolis for first place with Monday’s 10-6 road upset of previously unbeaten Cincinnati, though Hoyer wasn’t around to finish it after sustaining a concussion in the third quarter.
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T.J. Yates replaced him and found DeAndre Hopkins for a 22-yard score early in the fourth, his first touchdown pass since leading Houston past the Bengals as a rookie in the 2011 wild-card round.
Yates was pressed into duty that season due to injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart. After rejoining the Texans last month following a one-year stop in Atlanta, he may find himself again in the thick of a playoff race with Hoyer questionable to be cleared on a short week.
”It’s a little nostalgic,” said Yates, who also rallied the Texans to a critical win in Cincinnati in his second career start nearly four years ago. ”I have a lot of good memories in Cincinnati.”
Yates seems to be in line for his first start since the 2011 playoffs, particularly after the Texans claimed quarterback Brandon Weeden off waivers from Dallas on Wednesday to presumably serve as a backup.
Yates would be the third quarterback to start for Houston this season, the same number coach Bill O’Brien used during his debut season of 2014. Fitzpatrick was part of that rotation, having opened the first nine games before being displaced by the recently released Ryan Mallett.
Traded to the Jets in March for a conditional 2016 draft pick, Fitzpatrick has New York (5-4) in the playoff hunt by having performed capably since reuniting with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, his one-time coach in Buffalo.
The well-traveled veteran is coming off a rough outing, however, going 15 of 34 for 193 yards and two interceptions while playing through a torn ligament in his left thumb in a 22-17 loss to the Bills on Nov. 12.
Fitzpatrick underwent surgery the following day and is eager to start against the Texans, which will happen barring any setbacks.
"I’ve been on enough teams now to where you don’t hold grudges, but (the trade) plays into it," he said. "The fact that they didn’t necessarily want me at the end of the year plays into it a little bit for me from the personal standpoint."
Motivation for both teams is high regardless due to the game’s significance. The Jets and Bills are tied for the AFC’s final wild-card spot with a host of teams, including Houston, a game behind.
While much of the buildup has centered around the quarterbacks, it’s been the defenses that have both clubs in contention.
The Jets rank fourth in total defense and are yielding a league-low 88.1 rushing yards per game, though the unit has displayed a few cracks in recent weeks. New York has allowed 121.3 rushing yards and 4.7 per attempt over its last three, and surrendered a season-high 148 to Buffalo.
Houston permitted 503 yards in a Week 7 loss at Miami but has been superb since, allowing four field goals and 467 yards combined in wins over Tennessee and Cincinnati.
The Texans have recorded 11 sacks in those two victories, with outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus notching 4 1/2 and J.J. Watt 3 1/2.
"We already knew what we had. It was just eliminating mistakes, penalties and just playing the way we know how to play – smart, fast, aggressive football," Mercilus said.
The pass rush could get a further boost in Jadeveon Clowney’s expected return from a back injury that kept the 2014 No. 1 overall pick out of Monday’s win.
The teams are meeting for the first time since 2012 and seventh overall, with the Jets having won the first five prior to a 23-17 home loss. New York is 2-0 at NRG Stadium, with the most recent win a 24-7 decision in the 2009 opener.