Texans give effort, but fall short in 24-13 loss to Titans to fall to 4-8

Tom Savage had his best game but it was not enough.

The Texans hit the road in week 13 to face the Tennessee Titans in an important AFC South Division game. It's not so important for the Texans who needed to win 4 of their last 5 games to have an outside shot at the playoffs, but the Titans were 7-4 and tied for the division lead. They had to keep pace with Jacksonville ,who won again today. And they did, killing the Texans' faint playoff hopes with a 24-13 win. 

The Titans are now 8-4, while the Texans are 4-8.

It wasn't going to be easy though, Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans defense were prepared to make a stand with their offense struggling to help them since Tom Savage took over, having only won one game in their last four. But the passing offense played decently today, especially with a lot of injuries. DeAndre Hopkins and Stephen Miller picked up a the slack when injuries mounted. Hopkins caught 8 for 80 yards and Miller caught 5 for 70 and the Texans only touchdown.

Despite a bad first drive of the game by the Texans that went 3-and-out after 5 yards, it was an uncharacteristic good play by their special teams that got them the ball back. Titans punt returner Adoree Jackson fumbled the ball after a 25-yard return and Alfred Blue recovered it for the turnover. The Texans went 36 yards but stalled inside the 10-yard line and Ka'imi Fairbairn kicked a 23-yard field goal to put the Texans up 3-0 early in the 1st quarter.

The Titans came right back but didn't get the same result. An 8-play 53-yard drive by them ended with a missed field goal by Ryan Succop. Their defense would force another 3-and-out and they would get another drive going, but another punt put the ball back into Tom Savage's hand.

After starting from their own 13-yard line, the Texans ran two plays and were at the 40-yard line. The first big play of the game was Savage finding a wide-open Braxton Miller for a 57-yard catch and run down to the Titans 3 yard line. A great catch by Stephen Anderson on a low thrown ball and the Texans were now leading 10-0 in the 2nd quarter.

Not to be outdone, Marcus Mariota led the Titans down the field 75 yards in 10 plays, getting the Titans on the board and cutting the deficit to 3 points with a 9-yard touchdown run. Texans still led 10-7 at that point.

A little over four minutes remained on the clock before halftime and the Texans knew they needed to get something going to extend their lead before the break. Savage led a good 12-play drive but a bad sack on 3rd down halted the drive at the Tennessee 30-yard line. An up and down kicker the last few weeks; Fairbairn missed the 48-yarder and now Mariota and the Titans offense would have the ball on their own 38-yard line. In 4 plays they would get into field goal range and with 8 seconds left before halftime they would tie the game at 10 on a 43-yarder from Succop. 

The Texans offense seemed to be able to move the ball well through the air when they needed, and their first drive of the second half could have been a good answer to the Titans. They ran 16 plays and used up 8 minutes of clock time. But they still have to learn to finish their drives. After stalling again near the goal line, Fairbairn missed his second field goal of the game and that great effort was for naught and it remained a tie game, 10-10.

The Titans made them pay on the very next drive. From his own 20-yard line Mariota went 3 for 5 for 55 yards through the air while they gained another 25 yards on the ground. After a 3rd down play had the spot overturned upon further review they went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Houston 27-yard line. A 3-yard run by Derrick Henry gave them a 1st down and the next play was a 24-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker for the Titans first lead of the game, 17-10.

Punts were traded and the Texans got the ball with 11:31 on the clock in the 4th quarter. in 7 minutes they ran 12 plays down to the Tennessee 24-yard line. Fairbairn would put the Texans closer with a 42-yard field goal making him 2 for 4 on the day. But now only 4 and a half minutes were left and the Texans were still down 17-13.

Zach Cunningham made sure the defense held and only about 2 minutes came off the clock putting Tom Savage and Bill O'Brien in position to win the game in the final minutes.

It didn't look good though. Facing a 4th and 4 from the Tennessee 36-yard line the Texans got three consecutive false start penalties from left tackle Jeff Allen to stare down the barrel of 4th and 19. For the second time today Savage found Stephen Anderson on a great catch. This one went for 22 yards and a first down. And then, as if he just has an uncontrollable urge to do so, Savage threw an interception in the end zone to Titans cornerback LeShaun Sims to end the drive and all hope of winning the game.

Derrick Henry would put the game out of reach 3 plays later when he ran for a 75-yard touchdown making it 24-13 Tennessee.

This game could have been a lot different. The Texans were able to move the ball well outside of the red zone but two missed field goals, only one touchdown on three trips inside the 10-yard line, and a bad interception under 2 minutes left in the game just won't get it done. The Titans only turned the ball over once and it was so early in the game it had little effect on the final.

If the coaches and leadership of the Texans can't see that Savage is the sole reason they are losing then there is no chance they turn this franchise into a winner any time soon. With the game on the line and a chance to take the lead in the final 2 minutes, Savage ruined everything good he had done before that.

He led the offense well today going 31 of 49 for 365 yards and a touchdown when the rushing game could only muster 53 yards. It looked like missed field goals would be to blame for the situation, but Savage went out and did what he does best. He now has 13 turnovers by himself this season and he has only played in six games.

The Texans will face a beatable 49ers team at home next week but that's no lock. Jimmy Garoppolo led them to their second win of the season in his first start. He just might be able to beat a team that has a turnover machine at quarterback.



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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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