HOUSTON – The surging Atlanta Falcons appeared to have the advantage heading into Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, whose rookie quarterback T.J. Yates was making his first NFL start.
It didn't turn out that way.
Yates threw a touchdown pass, Arian Foster rushed for 111 yards and Houston overcame another injury to Andre Johnson to beat Atlanta 17-10.
The Texans (9-3) have won a franchise-record six straight games, a remarkable feat considering they're down to their third-string quarterback and have played the bulk of their streak without their star receiver.
"This is a league of talented players," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "First-teamers, second-teamers, third-teamers — I think we had the advantage on paper, but you've always got to go out and play the game. It doesn't matter who was on the other side."
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.
Coach Gary Kubiak said after the game that he was told the injury was not severe, but he couldn't be certain until Johnson underwent tests Monday.
The Falcons (7-5) sputtered offensively much of the day and lost for just 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.
"We had opportunities to make some plays and we didn't make them," Ryan said. "It's disappointing."
Atlanta hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in its previous 14 games and entered having allowed the second-fewest yards rushing per game in the NFL.
"We figured they would run the ball (and) that is what they did," Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "They mixed the run with the pass and they kept us off guard. We really couldn't pin our ears back and play solid defense."
Yates 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 his right foot in Houston's previous game.
Smith wasn't surprised that the Texans were able to play well with Yates at quarterback.
"It is a system offense," Smith said. "It is based on the running game and, so, regardless of whom the quarterback is, there are the same actions."
The Falcons couldn't capitalize on Yates' biggest mistake, either.
Early in the fourth quarter, linebacker Mike Peterson intercepted and returned for an apparent touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter. But cornerback Dunta Robinson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon were both called for defensive holding.
Foster kept the drive going with a 12-yard scamper and finished the 19-play march with a 1-yard run with 6:05 left.
Then it was up to the Texans' defense to finish.
Atlanta got the ball back with 59 seconds left, and Ryan threw a deep pass to Julio Jones to the Texans 25. But Ryan overthrew Roddy White in one corner of the end zone and Kareem Jackson swatted away a pass to Jones in the other corner as time expired.
"I had the opportunity to make that play and I just had to come up with the catch at the end," Jones said.
Ryan completed 20 of 46 passes for 267 yards, but also threw two interceptions.
Johnson pulled in a 50-yard pass from Yates to the Atlanta 5 in the second quarter. Yates then snapped a quick pass to Joel Dreessen for his first career TD.
Ryan completed three passes to Tony Gonzalez to get the Falcons moving. Atlanta drove and finished with a 19-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.
Yates took a hard hit from John Abraham early in the third quarter, but Abraham was disappointed they weren't able to disrupt him more.
"It was our fault for not getting him down," Abraham said. "We got a few good pressures on him. But there's a difference between making him move and making him take hits and getting him on the ground. We didn't get him on the ground that much. He did a good job."
Ryan kick-started Atlanta's best drive of the game with an 18-yard pass to Gonzalez. Jones made an over-the-shoulder catch to the Houston 4, and Ryan found White wide-open for the tying score with 1:46 left in the third quarter.
Notes: Gonzalez has a catch in 175 consecutive games, the league's longest active streak. Gonzalez also reached 60 receptions for the 13th consecutive season, an NFL record. ... The Texans had a positive turnover ratio (plus-1) for the eighth time in 12 games. ... Houston has already matched its highest single-season wins total (9-7 in 2009).