The Cardiac Titans were back after a week of sweet, sweet blowout relief. After racing out to a 21-7 early lead, Tennessee saw the Texans come roaring back, scoring 16 unanswered to take a 23-21 lead.
From that point on, the two teams traded haymakers. Derrick Henry ripped off a 94-yard touchdown run that was immediately answered with a long scoring strike from Deshaun Watson to Will Fuller. Eventually, the game came down to a familiar site for the 2020 Titans: Ryan Tannehill with the ball in his hands, needing a score to win or prolong the game. And their quarterback came through for them again.
The Titans are now 5-0 and — critically — 2-0 in the AFC South through the first five weeks of the year. They have a big test coming up this week with Pittsburgh — the only other unbeaten AFC team — coming to Nashville, but we will have plenty of time to break down that matchup this week. For now, let’s get to winners and losers from Titans 42, Texans 36.
Winner: Derrick Henry
We, here at Broadway Sports, have been preaching patience with Henry after starting the season without many of the big explosive runs that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing from the star back. The Titans had been close consistently, but today they finally popped the big runs.
Henry had his four longest plays from scrimmage of the 2020 season in this game, including a 94-yard romp that now ranks as the second-longest run of his career behind, well, you know the one.
In total, Henry rushed for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries and added another 2 catches for 52 yards through the air. It was another unbelievable performance from what’s becoming an unbelievable career for The King.
He sure didn’t look overpaid today.
Loser: Malcolm Butler
Butler was burnt for what looked like it might have been a back-breaking 53-yard touchdown to Will Fuller immediately following Henry’s long run. The Texans seemed to go after Butler frequently in this game and he didn’t make enough plays when challenged. Not one of his better efforts.
Winner: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill turned the ball over twice — one fumble and one interception — but he made up for it with 364 yards and 4 touchdowns on 30-of-41 passing and yet another game-winning drive, already his 4th of the year.
He put up those numbers despite being without Corey Davis and having Jonnu Smith leave the game early with an ankle injury. Tannehill remains in total control and now has 1,368 yards and 13 touchdowns in the first five weeks of the season, a season-long pace of 4,378 yards and 42 touchdowns. Should there be some MVP chatter if this continues? You bet your ass there should.
One moment that stood out to me was the game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation. After completing a pass to Jeremy McNichols in the middle of the field with no timeouts remaining, Tannehill hurried the Titans to the line, but instead of spiking it to kill the clock, the quarterback quick snapped the ball and threw a beautiful fade ball to A.J. Brown in the corner of the end zone.
That’s clearly something that they had worked on previously for that type of situation, but the execution was spectacular. The risk of throwing the quick fade there is almost zero. It will allow maybe a couple of extra seconds run off the clock compared to the spike, but you’ll trade that time difference for the extra shot at the end zone against a scrambling defense.
Excellent composure under pressure from the Titans leader.
Loser: Ty Sambrailo
Sambrailo was in a tough spot. He was forced into the game for an injured Taylor Lewan for a third straight week and immediately put in a spot where he was all alone against J.J. Watt on a 3rd and long. That’s asking for trouble and I’m not even going to rip him for getting beat there. Watt has made much better tackles look just as foolish in his outstanding career.
I will, however, rip him for failing to pick up the fumble when it was in his hands and he — for reasons I will never understand — tried to get up and run with it? That was terrible and it was compounded by a penalty on the very next drive.
Credit to Sambrailo for settling down as he got into the game, but that opening sequence was absolutely terrible.
Winner: Arthur Smith
Another week, another 30-point showing for the Titans offense. That’s now 9 of their last 12 regular season games and 4-of-5 this season. It’s also the 5th time that they’ve dropped 40 on an opponent since Arthur Smith took over the offense, a feat the Titans had accomplished just 13 times total in the 20 years prior.
The Titans broke their single-game record for total yards, posting 601 yards of offense to top the 1991 Oilers, who previously held the record thanks to a 583-yard showing against the Cowboys. It also saw them return to their hyper-efficient ways, averaging 8.59 yards per play, good for the 6th-best mark in franchise history. That’s now the third top-6 yards per play output the offense has posted in their last 16 games.
This is an elite offensive football team.
Winner: Jeffery Simmons
Simmons picked up right where he left off in Minnesota, dominating the interior offensive line of the Texans and acting as a rare bright spot in an otherwise struggling defense. He finished with one sack and created another for his running mate DaQuan Jones.
He’s easily the best player on the Titans defense right now.
Loser: The rest of the Titans defense
The Titans are 5-0 so it’s nice to be able to fix problems when you’re winning, but the defense is absolutely a problem right now. There is talent on that side of the ball, but it’s just not clicking right now.
The third-down defense was bad again, allowing 7 conversions in 14 attempts and they continued to struggle in coverage, allowing Deshaun Watson to throw for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Adoree’ Jackson coming back will help — a lot — but he won’t solve everything.
Winner: Anthony Firkser
With Jonnu Smith leaving the game early on with an ankle injury, Firkser stepped up in a big way, posting his first career 100-yard game with 8 catches, 113 yards, and a touchdown. He’s been incredibly reliable since forcing his way from the practice squad to the 53-man roster in 2018 and this was a monster game for him that included a key block on Derrick Henry’s game winning run.
Loser: Stephen Gostkowski
Just when you thought the Titans had left their kicking woes in the past… Gostkowski gets a field goal blocked (not his fault) and then pushes another one wide (his fault). Those kicks would have saved Titans fans a lot of heartburn if they’d been converted.
Winner: A.J. Brown
Brown only finished with 56 yards, but he did what star wide receivers do: come up with big time catches. His grab in the corner of the end zone was phenomenal and that’s the kind of play the Titans haven’t gotten from receivers in years past.