As is their custom, the Titans didn’t make it easy on themselves. After jumping up 31-15 early in the third quarter, it looked like Tennessee was set to ride Derrick Henry into a comfortable win and an AFC South title… then the wheels fell off. Houston scored 20 unanswered points and took a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
However, the always-resilient Titans fought back to put together a methodical 19-play, 75-yard scoring drive that soaked up more than half of the final quarter and was capped off with a Ryan Tannehill touchdown run to put Tennessee up 38-35 with 1:42 remaining. But that still didn’t end things. The Texans put together a drive and hit a 51-yard field goal to tie the game with 18 seconds remaining, leaving Tannehill too much time. A 52-yard bomb to A.J. Brown set up a Sam Sloman bankshot off the right upright to bring the Titans their first division crown in 12 years.
The game was a microcosm of the Titans season as a whole. The offense was mostly brilliant with a few nervy moments mixed in. The defense was mostly atrocious, but did force a turnover. In the end, however, Tennessee found a way to get it done.
Their reward will be a home playoff matchup with the Ravens, which just so happens to be the opponent in Tennessee’s last home playoff game, a matchup that many Titans fans will remember as a slog that featured a Baltimore team intent on injuring star running back Chris Johnson, a crippling Alge Crumpler fumble, and a clear missed delay of game penalty that aided the Ravens game-winning drive. The Titans-Ravens rivalry being revived is one of my favorite subplots of the last couple seasons and this matchup will add fuel to that grudge one way or another.
However, we will have plenty of time to get into that over the next week. For now, let’s jump into winners and losers from Titans 41, Texans 38.
Winner: Derrick “2King” Henry
Derrick Henry went OFF… AGAIN. Needing 223 yards to become the NFL’s 8th 2,000-yard rusher and he cruised past that mark with 250 yards on 34 carries to finish with 2,027 yards on the season.
That broke Chris Johnson’s franchise record of 2,006 yards, made Tennessee the first franchise to have two 2,000-yard backs, and pushed his 2020 total all the way up to 5th on the all-time single season rushing charts behind 1984 Eric Dickerson, 2012 Adrian Peterson, 2003 Jamal Lewis, and 1997 Barry Sanders. I have a hard time crafting an MVP argument for Henry over Aaron Rodgers, whose team finished with a better record — including a dusting of Henry’s Titans on national TV just a week ago — and threw a whopping 48 touchdown passes (tying Dan Marino for the 5th highest single season mark all-time), but Henry should absolutely be the Offensive Player of the Year. His influence on the Titans offense as a whole is unmistakable and he’s a truly unique force in the league. That should be recognized.
Going back to the end of last season, Henry is currently on a run unlike any other that we’ve seen in NFL history.
Enjoy what you’re watching right now because this is beginning to feel very much like a Hall of Fame career happening before our eyes.
Loser: Corey Davis
This was a really tough game for Davis. After looking like a lock to break the 1,000-yard mark a couple weeks ago, his breakout season ended with a whimper, posting just 39 total yards over the final two weeks combined.
Davis dropped at least three passes in this game, including a couple that could have been big gains and/or conversions in the game. He did, however, rebound to come up with a huge third down conversion on the Titans final touchdown drive.
It was a tough finish to a very good season for Davis, but he still has time to end on a better note with the playoffs coming up.
Winner: A.J. Brown
Brown is clearly hobbled by an ankle injury that has been haunting him for weeks now, but it seems as if it’s something that he is able to play through effectively. Today, he stayed down after his first catch in clear pain, but would return to post a 10-catch, 151-yard day with a touchdown and arguably the Titans biggest play of the season included.
His big day pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for a second straight year, giving him a total of 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. Brown’s touchdown mark ties Drew Bennett for the most single season receiving touchdowns since the Titans moved to Nashville.
Brown is very clearly the guy that the Titans go to when they need it the most and he continues to reward them for that faith. It may seem premature just two years into his NFL career, but I think it’s already clear that Brown is the best wide receiver to play for the Titans since the team relocated to Tennessee and you could even make an argument that he should already be entering the conversation for best pass catcher in franchise history.
His 151-yard day pushed him into second among all Titans/Oilers pass catchers in yards per game (70.9, less than a yard behind Charley Hennigan’s 71.8) and touchdowns per game (0.67, narrowly trailing Bill Groman’s 0.76 mark). Both Hennigan and Groman played in the 60’s prior to the AFL-NFL merger. To say that we’ve never seen anything like Brown here in Nashville is accurate.
Loser: Titans Pass Defense
Shocker, I know… but the Titans pass defense struggled tremendously against Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Tennessee had no answer for Brandin Cooks (11 catches, 166 yards, two touchdowns), even getting torched when they tried to double Houston’s lone remaining dangerous weapon.
The pass rush, of course, was part of the problem. Tennessee got home for four sacks — their season high (after Desmond King’s originally-recorded TFL was changed to a sack) — but those were the exception, not the rule. More often than not, we saw a familiar image of a quarterback standing in the pocket as the pass rush appeared to be stuck in quicksand.
There were individual players who appeared to play well — we will get to them in a moment — but the bad still far outweighed the good. Fortunately for the Titans, they are facing an opponent that is unlikely to pick them apart through the air in the first round.
Winner: Amani Hooker
Hooker seemed to be one of those players playing well on the Titans defense. The highlight, obviously, was his interception that tied Malcolm Butler for the team lead at four on the season.
He did a great job here of reading the quarterback’s eyes and undercutting the route. In addition to this play, you rarely saw Hooker getting beat in coverage in this game. He’s had a really nice sophomore season for Tennessee.
Loser: Kevin Byard
Byard isn’t having his best season and that continued today. He got caught taking the bait on Houston’s flea flicker touchdown to Cooks that seemed to jumpstart the Texans second half comeback and generally just looked to be a step slow in getting to where he needed to be.
Winner: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill finished with a rather pedestrian stat line through the air, going 18-of-27 for 216 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers (he did have a near miss that could have been devastating late in the game). However, he also contributed 38 yards and two scores on the ground and came through when the Titans needed him most… again.
His NFL-best sixth game-winning drive of the season featured an absolute dime to A.J. Brown for 52 yards and his performance on the 19-play drive before that one was impressive as well. Time and time again, Tannehill has proven that he is more than capable of coming through for this team when the game is on the line.
His 2020 stat line will finish with 3,819 yards (best in the Titans era of the franchise), 33 passing touchdowns (tied with Warren Moon for second all-time in franchise history), and 7 rushing touchdowns (tied for third all-time in franchise history). His 40 combined passing and rushing touchdowns is a single season franchise record.
His performance also helped push Tennessee over the top for their fifth 40-plus point game of the 2020 season, the most of any team this season. The 2020 Titans are one of just 26 teams all-time to produce at least five 40-burgers in a single season. Tannehill’s insertion into the starting lineup, combined with Henry’s emergence, has elevated the Titans offense into the stratosphere of the all-time great scoring machines in NFL history.
Semi-related: The Ryan Tannehill read keeper is the most unstoppable play in NFL history.
Winner: Sam Sloman
Listen… Sloman was shaky. He kicked a kickoff out of bounds and his field goals often looked very blockable, but at the end of the day he got the job done, converting all five extra points and both field goal attempts for the Titans, including the game winner in his relief appearance for the COVID-listed Stephen Gostkowski.
May the Clinching Clang live on forever…