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Whipped in Houston: Falcons waste opportunity 17-10

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Looks as if an NFL team can win, after all, with an anonymous rookie quarterback starting his first game. All it needs is a rock-'em, sock-'em defense and a to-die-for running back. Right, Falcons?

The Texans sent out their third-string QB, the ninth player at his position taken in the latest draft -- behind Colin Kaepernick and Ricky Stanzi -- Sunday in Houston for Atlanta to tear limb from limb.

T.J. Yates was a fifth-rounder in April, and the Texans coaches called the appropriate game for someone of modest credentials, with only 25 passes and lots of handoffs to the wondrous Arian Foster.

Foster managed a rarity -- a 100-yards-plus rushing game against a Mike Smith defense. Not bad, but not unusual, for a guy who arrived with lower draft status than Yates. In fact, he went altogether unpicked three seasons ago.

A calm, cautious Yates and a dazzling Foster panhandled for only 17 points on the Falcons' D. Which should have set up the Birds for a win.

But, no. The league's No. 1 defense upheld its status by blitzing Matt Ryan, forcing no sacks but batting down several throws on the line of scrimmage. Smith, normally a run-first coach, approved 47 passes and just 18 runs, an odd ratio given the closeness of the game.

Oh, if they could get a mulligan. Ryan missed well over half of the time, though there were scattered drops, and Michael Turner never was allowed to find a rhythm.

At the end of the afternoon, though, the Falcons were in no worse shape for the NFC wild-card than when it began. The Giants, Cowboys and Bears lost -- Chicago also lost tailback Matt Forte for a spell -- which means three wins in the final four games would put Atlanta in the playoffs. A 2-2 finish might suffice.

Yet, this was one they shoulda had. Come on, now. T.J. Yates?

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