In the battle for the AFC South Crown, the Houston Texans found their A-game at the right time and escaped Nissan Stadium with the Tennessee Titans thinking they let one get away. Had they won, they would have controlled their destiny for a playoff appearance now they have to depend on scenarios involving someone winning and another losing.
Mike Vrabel didn’t want to be reminded of that fact.
“You would have to tell me that. I don’t know what that scenario is. I don’t focus on that. I try to focus on winning games, which we didn’t do today. We will have to do a better job, a much better job. That’s what my focus is. It’s not trying to determine what the scenario is or who are we rooting for. We need to all be rooting for the Titans to make sure that we improve and put ourselves in the position to win.”
The effort was there; in the end, they didn’t play well in all four quarters. The 14 point hole was too deep; they made it to the surface, but the combination of Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins amounted to shoveling in the dirt as the clock became the enemy. Hopkins, his favorite target, was quiet for most of the game. He came alive in superstar time, the fourth quarter with the game hanging in the balance, delivering 4 key catches for 98 yards. They say, “big-time players make big-time plays” that is what he did for the Houston Texans to advance to 9-4, and secure the first-place ranking in the AFC South by defeating the Titans 24-21.
Ryan Tannehill shared his thoughts on the loss
It’s hugely disappointing. I was excited about the opportunity. I think our entire team was, and we didn’t come out and play well early. I don’t think any side of the ball would say we played well early. You play against good teams in this league, and you have to play them for four quarters, not two.
I know offensively, we have a lot of things to clean up and get better early in the game, and not get behind 14 points. That’s on us early, on the offense, that we had opportunities. We weren’t consistent enough as an offense in the first half in making those plays, and you get behind 14, and you’re in a tough spot. I was proud of our guys the way they battled back.
I thought we handled that adversity like we have all year, and fighting back and trying to put ourselves in a position at the end, which we did. But it wasn’t good enough early. It wasn’t good enough early, and it starts with me.
Deshaun Watson worked his magic, completing 19 of 27 passes for 243 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Both came deep in the red zone inside the 5-yard line. The first his receiver was down in the endzone, which allowed the defender to step right in front. The second popped up like a missed jump shot coming off the rim, also in the endzone. It went from a scenario of a potential touchdown, which meant lights out to touchback, which meant opportunity for the Titans.
In the NFL, it’s rare when a team can have two critical interceptions and come out with the victory, but that’s what happens when you don’t score points off turnovers. Since replacing Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill has been on fire throwing for back to back 300-yard games with 3 touchdowns causing the resurgence in the land of country music with a 6-1 record as the starting quarterback.
Head Coach Mike Vrabel on if he thought the slow start snowballed
“Yeah, there are certain things that we talk about that you do good, that you do bad, and the stuff that gets you beat. I think that finding ways to go down 14-nothing would be one of those ways that get you beat. It’s just hard to overcome that in this league. I knew we would battle back.”
The savior Ryan Tannehill orchestrated a 7 play 75-yard touchdown drive as the Titans played prevent with a 24-14 lead, It took only 1:22 to make it nail-biting to the end. A patient survey of the field led to an open Dion Lewis in the middle, which found the endzone on an 11-yard pass.
It was high drama time [onside kick.] The Titans faithful held their breath in anticipation, it hit the ground, and lazy bounced to Justin Reid, of course, he cradled it as if though he was protecting a newborn baby. After the two minute warning, the defense didn’t allow for an inch. They got possession with only .17 seconds remaining.
Charles Omenihu sacked Tannehill; they rushed up to spike it with one second remaining; unfortunately, the clock struck zero, preventing them from a desperation heave.
Before it was all said and done, the backup quarterback who was brought in to push Mariota might have pushed himself into a big payday as part of the future. He didn’t top the three hundred yard mark but was impressive completing 22-36 passes for 279 yards while contributing 1 touchdown and 1 interception that should have counted against the receiver.
Tannehill zipped a pass directly into the breadbasket of Anthony Firkser, a bone-jarring hit by the defender sent the ball up into Whitney Mercilus’ hands who ran it back 86 yards. Fortunately, the difference between a runner and a sprinter [clocked at 20 mph] paid major dividends as tight end Jonnu Smith ran him down at the 12-yard line.
Watson took full advantage and threw a low arching touch pass over the shoulder of Kenny Stills for a 12-yard touchdown. Stills gave a lesson on route running, a plant of the right foot to make it look as if though he was going left, and with the quick shift of his hips, he went right angling toward the back pylon. His non-verbal communication was perfectly understood by Watson, who was right on the money with the 16-yard touchdown pass. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
It was so effortlessly. Recall my earlier statement points off turnovers. Meanwhile, across the fence, the Titans had to settle for a blocked field goal when they got their big turnover. It came back to haunt them. The halftime ended with Deshaun Watson studying photographs of the defense seeking an edge with the score 14-0.
Someone placed an awake call to the front desk, causing the Tennesse Titans to come out of the locker room determined. They fed the beast Derek Henry who has been on a tear compiling 1,243 yards while rushing for 13 touchdowns and 4 straight 100-yard games. A fake to him allowed Tannehill to trot around the left end untouched from two yards out.
A statement was made 15 plays covering 76 yards for a whopping 9:26. The call was answered with the scoreboard reflecting 14-7. Deshaun Watson brought his team back the other way with a teardrop pass to Will Fuller. I could only describe it with one word, “perfect,” nothing the defender could do based on where the ball was placed. They made it to the 4-yard line before a turnover, which prevented a 21-7 score.
The Titans knew they had to make the best of their opportunity; it came in a bit of a trick play, sending the speedy tight end Jonnu Smith to receive the pitch as he came across the backfield, around the end he went for 57 yards. Ryan Tannehill had time to dance the two-step as he surveyed the field before throwing a bullet of a 5-yard touchdown to A J Brown. The score was 14-14, and the Titans had calmed the rough seas.
The Texans went on to answer, putting up another touchdown and a field goal to end the Cinderella run by the NFL’s hottest but quietest team. The Tennessee Titans who was all but written off after their dismal 2-4 start. They fell to 8-6 and will have an intriguing dilemma this offseason with either resigning Marcus Mariota or breathing a second life into Ryan Tannehill.
Derek Henry might have provided the best one-liner to describe a game like this “you play the game for games like this and opportunities.” Their next opportunity is called the New Orleans Saints here in Nissan Stadium on December 22, 2019, but it ends with the same ole Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 29, 2019. Should the Titans win next week and Tampa Bay upset the Texans, there will be a showdown in Texas for AFC Supremecy.