A second-half comeback energized Nissan Stadium on Sunday, but in the end the Titans fell short in a 24-21 loss to the Texans in a critical AFC South contest.
“It’s hugely disappointing,” said Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “I was excited about the opportunity — I think our entire team was, and we didn’t come out and play well early. And when you play against good teams in this league you have to play them for four quarters, not two.”
Tannehill completed 22-of-36 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns in the contest, while running back Derrick Henry carried the ball for 86 yards on 21 carries in the game. Receiver A.J. Brown turned in another stellar performance, catching eight passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
But the Titans had trouble stopping the Texans on a day when they made too many mistakes in all three phases of the game.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 243 yards and two touchdown passes for the Texans – receiver DeAndre Hopkins had 119 receiving yards, and receiver Kenny Stills had two touchdown catches. It was too much to overcome for the Titans, who saw a huge 14-point swing early change the game.
The Titans dropped to 8-6 with the loss, and now trail the Texans (9-5) in the AFC South with two games left in the regular season. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Titans, who had won six of seven games heading into Sunday’s contest.
“I am going to try and focus on some of the things that I saw when (players) came back, and fought back, but that’s going to be hard to do right now (after the loss),” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “I would say that we have to all do a better job of preparing and ultimately coaching and playing on Sunday.”
With the Titans trailing 14-0 in the third quarter, Tannehill scored on a one-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-goal play, which capped off a 15-play, 76-yard drive that took 9:26 off the clock to make it 14-7.
With a second-and-goal at the Tennessee four-yard line, the Texans were on the verge of extending their lead. But defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons tipped a pass from Watson and linebacker Jayon Brown intercepted it in the end zone.
The Titans then tied he game at 14-14 on a five-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to A.J. Brown, which sent the Nissan Stadium crowd into a frenzy. The score was set up by a 57-yard run by Jonnu Smith, who lined up in the backfield, took the pitch, and sprinted deep into Houston territory.
But the Texans reclaimed the lead on a 10-yard touchdown run by Carlos Hyde with 10:34 left, and a field goal by kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn made it 24-14 with 3:26 left.
The Titans cut the lead to 24-21 on a touchdown pass from Tannehill to running back Dion Lewis with 2:04 left, but couldn’t recover the onsides kick and the Texans ran the clock down to just 28 seconds before punting it away. When the Titans got the ball, they couldn’t do anything with it and time expired with the Texans celebrating.
“I think everybody in this whole room is disappointed,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said after the contest. “We just didn’t play consistently enough in all phases. We played good in spurts. Defensively we didn’t make enough plays when it counted and we can’t get down 14 points to a good team like Houston. Credit to the Texans – they made plays and we didn’t stop them enough.”
There were some big swings early.
The Texans put together a nice drive on the opening possession, but it ended with Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro intercepting Watson on the one-yard line.
When the Titans got the ball, they quickly moved into field goal position following a 60-yard pass from Tannehill to Brown. But the possession stalled, and kicker Ryan Succop’s 45-yard attempt was blocked.
Later, the Titans failed to execute a fake punt when punter Brett Kern’s pass to safety Dane Cruikshank fell incomplete.
“I’ll back and take a look at it and see what happened and see what I can do better the next time we are out there,” said Succop, who is now 1-of-6 on the season. “I am out here battling, I am doing everything that I can. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t been as good as it needs to obviously.”
The Titans appeared to be on the verge of jumping ahead early in the second quarter, but a Tannehill pass to tight end Anthony Firkser was dislodged near the goalline by safety Justin Reid and intercepted by linebacker Whitney Mercilus, who returned it to the Tennessee 12-yard line.
Two plays later, Watson connected with receiver Kenny Stills for a 12-yard touchdown pass to give the Texans a 7-0 lead.
It was a huge 14-point swing.
“I didn’t do my job well enough,” Firkser said. “I have to do my job better, complete the catch and hold onto the ball. I’ve got to control it better. Ryan put it on me, and I was trying to make the catch.”
The Texans made it 14-0 on their next possession as Houston capped off a nine-play, 72-yard drive with another touchdown pass from Watson to Stills, this one for 16 yards, and the Texans had a two-touchdown lead at the half.
While the Titans battled back, it wasn’t enough.
The Titans face the Saints next Sunday at Nissan Stadium before ending the season in Houston against the Texans.