The AFC South is down to Titans and Texans, who will meet twice in the final three weeks to settle it. After winning six of their last seven games, Tennessee found themselves with a chance to take control of the division at home in week 15. You can’t ask for much more than that.
This game promised plenty of yards and points, and it looked like the Texans were well on their way to getting the party started on their first drive. Deshaun Watson carved up the Titans through the air, with virtually no pressure to be found. Watson looked to cap off the drive by throwing to Duke Johnson, who appeared to be wide open. But Kenny Vaccaro saved the day, swooping in to secure the interception at the goal line.
Ryan Tannehill flipped the field two plays later, finding A.J Brown on a 60 yard bomb.
But the Titans couldn’t do anything with it. Ryan Succop’s field goal attempt was blocked, keeping us at a 0-0 score.
After a wild start, the two defenses settled in from there as the teams traded punts.
It took us until the second quarter to see points, which came from the Texans. Derrick Henry got going with a couple of big runs, while Tannehill appeared to cap off the drive with a touchdown to Anthony Firkser. But as Firkser hauled in the quick slant, the Texans knocked the ball out. It landed in Whitney Mercilus’ hands for the pick, who took it 86 yards the other way to the Tennessee ten.
Watson finished the drive with a floater of a pass to Kenny Stills for the touchdown.
Derrick Henry sat out the next series and could be seen getting attention on his hamstring. The Titans went three and out without him on the field, giving Houston a chance to grab control of the game.
Watson did just that. A quick drive down the field resulted in another touchdown pass to Stills, pushing the Houston lead to 14-0.
Tannehill needed an answer quickly. The Titans had two minutes to get on the scoreboard before halftime, and Arthur Smith went to the air. A.J. Brown caught back to back passes to get to midfield, but the rest of the drive came up empty as Houston clamped down in coverage.
Vrabel was forced to punt — or so we thought. He opted for the fake, which featured a deep pass attempt from Brett Kern. The Texans were not fooled at all. Kern’s pass was batted down, and Houston suddenly had a shot to bury Tennessee before halftime.
Here’s the play.
No huge Kevin Byard special teams touchdowns allowed today. Great play by Lonnie Johnson. pic.twitter.com/wJmYKKUIiY— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 15, 2019
Vrabel was fortunate though, as Watson couldn’t add to the Houston lead.
Derrick Henry returned to the lineup to start the third quarter, but it was Brown and Tannehill moving the chains. That connection provided two first downs to get Tennessee past the 50 yard line quickly to open the second half. Corey Davis took a screen pass inside of the 20, then Henry moved it down to the one on the next play.
After three downs of no gain from the one, Vrabel was forced to go for it on fourth down. It was Ryan Tannehill scoring on a bootleg, finally putting the Titans on the scoreboard. The drive took over nine minutes off the clock, cutting the Houston lead in half.
The defense had to do their job now. But on a big third down play from midfield, Watson found Will Fuller on a fade route, who beat Logan Ryan. The big gain put Houston in scoring range. Carlos Hyde picked up 11 more on the next play, moving to the Tennessee five.
But just as things looked grim, Jeffery Simmons changed the game. The rookie tipped a Watson pass that was destined to be caught for six, and Jayon Brown picked it off in the endzone.
That was the break the Titans needed to catch after the goal line pick early in the game. Suddenly Tannehill had the ball back, down just 14-7.
Jonnu Smith — yes the tight end — took a toss on the first play of the fourth quarter for 57 yards. Smith nearly outran everybody, but was tripped up after entering the redzone.
Tannehill finished the drive by finding A.J. Brown (who else would it be?) for the equalizer. The Titans found found that second half magic once again to storm back from a 14-0 deficit to a 14-14 tie with 13 minutes to play.
But this time Watson had an answer. He found DeAndre Hopkins to move into Titans’ territory on a big play, the Watson kept it himself to convert a third a ten. Hyde got the payoff for Houston, running it in from ten yards out.
It was seven plays for 75 yards in the matter of about three minutes. It was a quick answer from the Texans, who put the pressure right back on Arthur Smith and Tannehill.
This time, it was nothing doing for the offense. A big screen to Jonnu Smith moved the chains to start the drive, but the Houston pass rush shut down Tannehill on the next set of downs. Kern came on to punt, pinning Houston on their own nine with a little over eight minutes to play.
The Texans came out leaning on Carlos Hyde, who picked up a first down on two carries. Watson then found Hopkins on another big play, beating the Titans over the top who were expecting run. Hopkins hauled in another big play shortly after, hauling in a strike over the middle.
Those two Hopkins grabs felt like the back-breakers. Houston added a field goal to make it a two score game at 24-14.
Tannehill went back to work with Jonnu Smith for two first downs. He found two more first downs, throwing to Tajae Share and Corey Davis to enter the redzone. Just before the two minute warning, Tannehill threw a touchdown to Dion Lewis to bring us to a 24-21 score.
Ryan Santoso’s onside kick was recovered by the Texans. Tennessee still had a slight chance, thanks to their score before the two minute warning. But they needed a stop first. The defense did hold, but the clock wasn’t on their side.
Houston punted with 28 seconds left — and LeShaun Sims inexplicably fielded the punt at the goal line. Tannehill had 17 seconds left from his own 12. He was sacked on the first play of the drive, ending the game.