In the final game of the season, with the Titans playing for the AFC South title (after clinching a playoff spot earlier today with the Dolphins losing), Houston gave them all they could handle.
Tennessee came up with the clutch close victory. Derrick Henry became the 8th player in NFL history to run for over 2,000 yards with 250 on the day (his third straight game against Houston with 200+ yards), A.J. Brown became the first receiver since Michael Thomas to start his career with back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons with 151 on the day, and became only the second in franchise history (first since 1961) to do so.
The Titans will face the 5-seed Baltimore Ravens at home next weekend.
Here’s how the AFC South-clinching victory went down…
The Texans received the opening kickoff and got things started with a big completion from Deshaun Watson to Brandin Cooks for 20 yards. After that, the Titans defense stiffened up, forcing an incompletion on 1st and 10 from the HOU 45 and then holding Houston to short gains on 2nd and 3rd down. Texans punted.
The Titans opened their first drive with a play-action strike to A.J. Brown, who stayed on the ground holding his already injured knee. He missed a couple plays and returned for a 3rd-and-18 from the TEN 40, which the Titans were unable to convert on a short throw to Anthony Firkser. Brett Kern came on to punt for Tennessee.
On the Texans next possession, David Long made a nice run stop to force a 3rd and 6. Watson stared down Cooks looking for the first down and launched the ball into double coverage. Amani Hooker stepped in front of the throw to snag his fourth interception of the year.
The Titans couldn’t capitalize on the turnover. Tannehill missed an open Corey Davis deep throwing under pressure, and then Davis dropped an uncontested would-be first down on 3rd and 8. With Stephen Gostkowski out with COVID, the Titans brought out Sam Sloman, who cooly nailed the 47-yard field goal. Titans took an early 3-0 lead.
Houston’s offense started to move the ball on their next series, keyed by Watson finding Keke Coutee on a slip-out wheel route with Tennessee’s defense focused on the run fake for a 42-yard pick up. Watson got the Texans inside the 10, but the Titans defense did not break after bending, holding Houston to a tying field goal.
Tennessee polished off the quarter with a pass to Brown over the middle to the TEN 48.
End 1Q — Titans 3, Texans 3.
After some tough short gains, Derrick Henry finally broke through to start the second quarter with a 52-yard touchdown run. Countdown to 2,000: 151 yards away. Titans took a one-touchdown lead on Sloman’s extra point.
On their next drive, the Texans hit a nice 14-yard pass to Pharaoh Brown, but then the Titans defense actually got off the field… or at least, they brought the Texans punt team onto the field. A.J. McCarron lined up as the personal protector on the punt team, took the direct snap, and threw a first-down strike to keep the drive going.
Houston got all the way inside the 20 when the Titans defense came up with not one but TWO sacks in a three-play span. Brooks Reed got home first, and it was Harold Landry two plays later forcing the Texans field goal unit back out. Houston cut the Titans lead to 10-6 with 8:15 left in the first half.
Tannehill picked up 10 yards on a bootleg to start their next possession, and Davis finally got going with a big catch over the middle. The boot action of Tannehill held J.J. Watt’s attention on the next snap, and Henry took it 28 yards down to the 1 yard line. A couple plays later, Tannehill found Brown underneath for the touchdown. Titans push their lead to 17-6. At this point, Henry needed 110 rushing yards to crack 2,000, Davis needed 35 receiving yards to crack 1,000, and Brown needed 43 receiving yards to crack 1,000 himself.
Sloman kicked the ball out of bounds, giving Houston great starting field position with just 4:29 on the clock. Watson was “sacked” for a 2-yard loss after picking up a first down, but it counted as a rush attempt for Watson rather than a sack for Desmond King. Watson kept the drive alive by converting a 3rd-and-9 to Cooks from the TEN 47, taking us to the 2-minute warning. The Texans worked it down to the 10 and took a few shots to the end zone with time winding down. Their last try was caught, but out of bounds (upheld after a review). The Texans kicked through a field goal with 10 seconds left, narrowing the lead to 17-9, and Tannehill kneeled it out for halftime.
End 1H — Titans 17, Texans 9.
Like a well-oiled machine, the Titans marched right down the field to open the second half, a drive that ended with Henry walking untouched into the end zone for his second score. Henry trimmed his needed yardage to 88 for 2K, Brown trimmed his to 14 for 1K, and Davis dropped another pass that might’ve put him very close to the 35 yards he needs for his own 1K. Tennessee kicked back to Houston with a comfortable lead.
That lead got a lot less comfortable as Houston finally found the end zone on their next possession. After picking up yards on a handful of plays to get to the TEN 38, the Texans pulled out a flea flicker, and Watson found Cooks wide open in the end zone. The extra point was missed, cutting the Titans lead down to 9.
Tennessee answered right back with Henry doing most of the work, including runs of 8, 9, and 4 yards before ripping off a 45-yarder down to the HOU 5. Tannehill took it in himself two plays later to extend the Titans lead to 16, with Henry just 22 yards away from the 2,000-yard season.
Houston responded right back. In just three plays — two David Johnson runs for a combined 45 yards and a 20-yard touchdown pass to Cooks — the Texans were back on the scoreboard. Houston came up just short on the two-point try, allowing Tennessee to maintain a 10-point lead.
With Henry looking to get to 2K, the Titans got back to work on offense. But it was one of those disaster one-play turnover drives the Titans have suffered from a few times this year, with Henry fumbling the ball and Houston pouncing on it at the TEN 28. The Texans scored a few plays later to make it a 3-point game with 1:20 left in the third.
On their next drive, the Titans got a bit of a scare facing a 3rd-and-10 quickly, but an 11-yard pass to Brown took care of that, and 15 more yards were tacked on for a roughing the passer penalty.
End 3Q — Titans 31, Texans 28.
Henry was able to pick up another first down at the HOU 36 and close within 7 yards of 2K, but then the offense stalled. A 2nd-and-11 pass to Davis in the end zone was batted away (with a lot of contact) by Vernon Hargreaves, and Tannehill’s 3rd-and-11 pass was also knocked incomplete. Tennessee went for it on 4th-and-11, and Tannehill was sacked for an 11 yard loss. Texans took over on downs at their own 48 yard line, trailing by 3 with 13:13 remaining.
It didn’t take long for Houston to convert the turnover-on-downs into points. Long was flagged on a Watson scramble and slide for hitting the quarterback late, and the Texans worked all the way into the end zone on a 7-yard pitch from Watson to Brown. Houston took their first lead of the game with just over 10 minutes to play.
This time, Tennessee was looking to drain the clock and score the game-winning touchdown. Brown picked up an early third-down conversion on a nice sideline catch, surpassing 1,000 yards on the season. Henry then eclipsed 2,000 yards with a handful of runs before breaking free for a 23-yard touchdown. However, Aaron Brewer was flagged for a terrible holding penalty that should not have been called, and the touchdown was nullified. Tannehill picked up another first down on a nice catch and run by Davis, putting him 26 yards away from 1K.
The two-minute warning arrived with Tennessee facing a 3rd-and-2 from the HOU 4. Tannehill picked up the first down but not the touchdown with the read-option keeper. The next play, Tannehill snuck it into the end zone, but another mystery flag claiming the Titans had an illegal formation (they didn’t) backed them up to the 6. Tannehill ran the read-option again two plays later and sprinted for the corner of the end zone to put the Titans back up 3 with 1:42 on the clock.
Houston was able to put a drive together with a huge completion to Coutee down to the TEN 33. The Titans defense forced three straight incompletions from there, and Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked through the game-tying field goal with 18 seconds on the clock.
It was the exact amount of time Tennessee needed. Tannehill dropped back and ripped a beautiful arching pass to Brown, who hauled it in for a 52-yard gain at the TEN 25. Henry took one last carry to bleed the clock down, and Sloman’s kick came with an extra dose of drama. After bouncing off the right upright, the ball banged through for a made field goal, a Titans win, and the AFC South championship.
Final: Titans 41, Texans 38.
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