NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Titans did not have wide receiver A.J. Brown when they attempted to rally on Sunday.
They lost their leading receiver to a chest injury late in the third quarter and ultimately lost 22-13 to the Houston Texans, a team that had not won since Week 1. Franchise officials said Brown's return was questionable but he was not even on the sideline throughout the fourth quarter, which began with the Titans behind by 13.
The 2019 second-round pick out of Ole Miss was injured on a nine-yard reception along his team's’ sideline with 4:09 to play in the third when Texans cornerback Desmond King hit him shoulder-to-shoulder. He briefly received attention from the training staff before he headed to the locker room to 2:24 to go in the quarter.
Brown led the Titans with five receptions for 48 yards at the time he was hurt, and his team trailed the Texans 19-0. As he made his way to the locker, room, however, Tennessee scored on an 18-yard Dez Fitzpatrick reception. Following a missed extra point, the Titans were down 19-6.
Tennessee (8-3) entered the game against Houston (2-8) without wide receiver Julio Jones, who was placed on injured reserve a week earlier. It also was their third game without running back Derrick Henry, which has put increased emphasis on their ability to throw.
Then, Marcus Johnson, who started in place of Jones, injured a hamstring on the final play of the first half and did not return. The Titans finished the game, therefore, with just three healthy wide receivers, Westbrook-Ikhine, Fitzpatrick and Chester Rogers.
Running back Dontrell Hillard finished with a team-high eight receptions while Westbrook-Ikhine added seven catches for a game-high 107 receiving yards (both career-highs). Westbrook-Ikhine caught five passes for 81 yards in the fourth quarter.
"You definitely take it play by play, but you do realize,' Yeah, we don't have anyone else,'" Westbrook-Ikhne said. "So, that's what we were saying the whole time. We just had to take it play by play. You can't try to win the game all at one time because that's not possible."
The chest injury was Brown's second of the contest. On the second play of the day, he failed to haul in a pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and immediately went to the sideline because of an issue with his left hand. He came back from that one and made his first reception – a 10-yard gain for a first down – with 2:20 to play in the first quarter.
Through the first 10 weeks of the season, Brown was Tennessee’s leading receiver with 41 catches for 567 yards and three touchdowns despite the fact that he missed one full game and part of another with a hamstring injury. He also has been listed on the injury report with a knee issue in recent weeks.
He was particularly effective over a three-week span beginning in Week 6 when he had at least seven receptions and 91 receiving yards in victories over Buffalo, Kansas City and Indianapolis. He scored a touchdown in two of those three.
"You want to have your guys out there that you're used to playing with and you have reps with," Tannehill, who threw a career-high four interceptions (three in the fourth quarter), said. "But that's where we're at right now in the season. It's been a tough season, injury-wise."
Brown is one of 11 players in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two NFL seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2020.
On Nov. 12, he revealed via social media that he has battled depression in recent years and even considered suicide during the 2020 season. Days later, he said he has learned to deal with the issues and is “in a better place mentally” these days.