Justin Reid and Whitney Mercilus Provide the Spark When the Texans Needed It The Most

Patrick D. Starr

The win for the Houston Texans on Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee, did not come easy, but all it took was one play to jumpstart the game. It took both Justin Reid and Whitney Mercilus to put together a pivotal play to not only save the game for the Texans but possibly the season. 

With the Titans driving and set up on the Houston five-yard line, a first and five yards to go, a pass to Titans tight end Anthony Fisker from Ryan Tannehill was broken up by Reid and popped the ball into Mercilus' arms who was running to help on the play. 

Mercilus ended up returning the interception for 86-yards and setting up the Texans' first score of the game on a Deshaun Watson pass to Kenny Stills for 12-yards. 

Head coach Bill O'Brien was putting together corrections with the offense on the sideline but did not see the play transpiring. 

"I was on the bench with the offense when that happened," O'Brien said of the Mercilus interception. "Great job. I have got to see it on film, but it was a great job, and a great job by Whitney (Mercilus) to get that and taking it back where he did. That kind of got us going. I think that was the play of the game, really. We moved the ball on the first drive, but we had an interception there, so I think that play really got us going."

Reid realized the formation that the Titans were running was showing a play that they studied during the week. The film study and 

"When we saw the formation, we lined up well," Reid said on the play that lead to the interception. "We saw that play in film, and the coaches did a great job of preparing us. I didn't want to guess it, so I played my rules, but when I saw the way he (Anthony Firkser) skipped off the line of scrimmage, I knew he was running a little rub route."

Reid continued, "So I was going to meet him at the point at the goal line, and I knew it was either going to be him or me, and I know he's not going to score on me. I put my shoulder on the ball and ended up popping it up. The awareness by Whitney Mercilus to be there, catch the ball, and take it I don't know how many yards. It was a turning point in the game and really gave the team a lot of juice and momentum."

Titans tight end Anthoney Fisker was not too thrilled with the outcome of that play. 

Fisker explained, "Yeah, I've got to make that catch and control the ball and not let it pop out like that."

With the Texans playing man coverage, the Titans formation put the defense in the look they wanted. The result ended up being the opposite of what Ryan Tannehill thought it would be from his pre-snap reads. 

"It was huge," Tannehill said of the interception in the red zone. "I had man coverage on the outside. I had exactly what we wanted. We wanted to get Firk there coming on the inside, and the guy knocked the ball loose right after Firk had his hands on it, and it just happened to go right in Mercilus' lap. Two weeks in a row that it popped right into someone's lap, so that's a tough situation and a tough swing for us. It's a 14-point swing, and that was huge."

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was not pleased with the outcome of the game, and the Nashville media was under fire from the head coach in the post-game press conference. 

Vrabel was not hard on his team despite the game-changing play. 

"Should he have caught it?" Vrabel said. "Come on, Joe. You're a professional writer. I don't know. The guy came in and hit him as the ball got there."

Despite the interception, Vrabel would not put the loss on that one play and explained his team had multiple chances to overcome that mistake. 

"You've got to overcome plays like that," Vrabel continued. "Whitney made a great play. The guy drove on the ball, hit him as he got there. Looked like Whitney was turning and hustling, and the ball popped into his hand."

Mercilus swears he has not run that far since training camp, but he was pleased that it could jump-start a Texans team to a win on Sunday. 

"It was just complementary football on that play," Mercilus said. "That gave us a spark for the offense to turn it to points and So sure enough, as soon as that happened. We were on a roll from there."

After the game, Mercilus jokingly placed the blame on linebacker Zach Cunningham not getting the final block to spring him in the end zone. Mercilus attempted everything he could to finish the return off in style. 

"J. Reid just made a great play as far as punching the ball out I was just there to catch it," Mercilus said of the play. "And sure enough, I was trying to turn it into points, but my hamstring tapped out on me."

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