Instead, the fifth-round pick made the kind of mistake he'd avoided in his first two starts and it dearly cost the AFC South leaders in a 28-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers, ending the Texans' seven-game winning streak.
The Texans were down by 15 points when Yates was intercepted by James Anderson in the end zone with 7 1/2 minutes left. The Panthers were able to run out the clock after that.
"I got a lot of stuff to learn from, a lot of mistakes made out on the field," Yates said.
Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes and DeAngelo Williams ran for a score for the Panthers (5-9). The Texans (10-4) are playing for home-field advantage in the playoffs after clinching their division last weekend.
Yates lost for the first time as a starter after leading Houston over Atlanta and then rallying the Texans from a 13-point deficit for a last-second, 20-19 victory over Cincinnati.
"He played like a young player," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "He did not play as sharp, read-wise. I don't know if that's getting a little rattled early in the game or what, I don't know. But we had opportunities for some big plays. We didn't make them. So he's got to play a lot better."
Yates was 19 of 30 for 212 yards.
Newton completed 13 of 23 passes for 149 yards and didn't turn the ball over. The Panthers built a 21-0 halftime lead, and then held on after Houston scored 13 straight points in the second half.
But Houston's top-ranked defense looked vulnerable without coordinator Wade Phillips, who's on medical leave after undergoing kidney and gall bladder surgery this week. Linebackers coach Reggie Herring made the defensive calls on Sunday.
Kubiak didn't believe Phillips' absence affected the team.
"Of course we would love to have Wade, but that wasn't the key," Kubiak said. "Reggie called a great game. It always comes down to players executing and we didn't execute well enough to win."
It was the first game all year in which Houston didn't force a turnover. Houston gave up only 316 yards, but Carolina converted two Texans turnovers into 14 points.
"We've got turnovers all year defensively," Kubiak said. "We didn't get any today. We gave them points. We turned the ball over in the red zone, we turned the ball over on the plus-side of the field. Everything we did wrong with the ball, turned into big points for them. That's obviously a big part of why you get beat."
Arian Foster fumbled on the second snap, and Newton threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith less than 3 minutes into the game.
Newton shrugged off two early sacks to make pinpoint passes to Smith and Greg Olsen for big gains, then found Jeremy Shockey for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 12:19 left in the half.
Yates made his first key mistake after getting Houston across midfield in the second quarter. Carolina linebacker Jordan Senn intercepted his off-target pass to Kevin Walter, and Newton calmly guided the Panthers down the field again.
Richie Brockel's TD run on a trick play finished a 9-play drive to put Carolina up 21-0 and the Texans faced their largest deficit of the season. The Panthers were also the first opponent to reach 20 points on Houston's home field since the Texans lost 25-20 to Oakland in Week 5.
The Texans' offense looked better in the third quarter, twice advancing into Carolina territory. But Yates threw incomplete on two third-down plays and Houston came away with only two field goals from Neil Rackers to cut the Panthers' lead to 21-6.
Houston's defense stiffened after the break, and Foster got the offense moving again with a weaving, 22-yard run to the Panthers 24. Yates zipped a pass to Walter to the 11, and Foster scored three plays later.
Carolina produced only 23 yards and one first down in the third quarter.
But Newton quieted the revived crowd with a 26-yard pass to Shockey early in the fourth. Williams sprinted 24 yards through a gaping hole on the next snap to put Carolina in front 28-13.
Notes: The Texans allowed more than 20 points at home for the first time since a 25-20 loss to Oakland in Week 5. ... Foster has 1,066 yards rushing this season for his second straight 1,000-yard season.