Texans 24, Titans 21
Texans take control of AFC South with grind-it-out win over the Titans
The Texans took control of the AFC South again with a big win in Tennessee. It wasn't pretty, but they made enough big plays on both sides of the ball to escape with a victory. Here is how it all played out:
Positives: The Texans took advantage of a huge Tennessee turnover for their first score. Deshaun Watson threw a perfect pass to Kenny Stills for the TD. Stills has been a really solid addition and added another touchdown later in the second quarter for a 14-0 lead. After blowing a 14-0 lead, they responded with a seven play, 75-yard drive to retake the lead and then get a key field goal. Carlos Hyde had a nice game running the football, with 104 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. DeAndre Hopkins, held quiet most of the game, came alive in the fourth quarter with 98 yards and finished the game with six catches for 119.
Negatives: Watson's inability to protect the football at times almost cost them the game. And once again, they failed to score on their opening drive. It looked promising, but Watson was fooled by the defense and threw a pick in the end zone. They now have a total of 3 points on 14 opening drives this season. Watson threw another pick in the end zone in the third quarter on a terrible play call by Bill O'Brien and an even worse decision by Watson. It cost them at least three points. Fortunately it did not matter but that was potentially 14 points off the board. The first pick was a great play by the safety, who tricked Watson. The second was just a dumb play.
Positives: Justin Reid and Whitney Mercilus combined on a massive play to not only keep Tennessee out of the end zone, but set up the Texans first score. Reid knocked a pass loose at the Texans 2 yard line, it bounced into Mercilus' hands and he returned it 88 yards all the way to the Tennessee 12 (see photo above). It was a major play considering the Titans were moving the ball well on the drive and wound up being a 14-point swing. The defense was a different animal in the first half than what they were against Denver, as they held the Titans scoreless. They got a little lucky with a blocked field goal and the deflected interception, but they also sniffed out a fake punt on fourth down to kill another drive.
Negatives: As good as they looked in the first half, they got pushed around in the second as the Titans cut the lead to 14-7 on the opening drive then followed it up with another touchdown drive to tie the score. Throughout the game, the Texans got little pressure on Ryan Tannehill, a problem that has reared its head almost every week since J.J. Watt's injury. They did get a key sack with just over nine minutes in the fourth with a 21-14 lead that caused the Titans to have to punt and also picked one up on the last play of the game. Once again, their prevent defense was awful in the last three minutes, allowing the Titans to march down the field in just over a minute to cut the lead to 24-21. The Texans were able to recover the onside kick and run off most of the game clock, but the Texans have to do a better job in those situations. Fortunately it did not matter.
The bottom line
This was an important win for the Texans, and they got just enough plays on on both sides of the ball to escape with the victory. The Titans were playing very well coming in, so this is a good victory. Watson was solid at times, but also had the two bad turnovers. He was fortunate they did not cost them the game.
Tennessee outplayed the Texans for much of the game, outgaining Houston by almost 60 yards. But the Mercilus play wound up being the difference. That and Watson bouncing back with the huge scoring drive after throwing his second pick and seeing the Titans tie the score.
As they have done in the past, the Texans bounced back from the abysmal Denver loss to get a key victory. They now sit at 9-5, and need to win only one of their two remaining games (at Tampa next week or Tennessee at home in week 17) to clinch the AFC South.