Titans Get to 5-0: How They Did It

David Boclair

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Titans have made a habit of winning games late this season.

Sunday, it took them just a little bit longer.

The Titans remained unbeaten with a stirring 42-36 victory over the Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium in which they came from behind twice in the final 10 minutes. The second time was with four seconds to go in regulation when wide receiver A.J. Brown scored the game-tying touchdown on a 7-yard reception. They subsequently ended it on Derrick Henry’s 5-yard touchdown run 3:30 into overtime.

A look at how the Titans improved to 5-0:

Big back, big plays: Henry had been a focal point of the offense through the first four games, but he also was a focus of opposing defenses. As a result, his longest run was 16 yards and his longest reception was six yards.

Against the Texans, he finally delivered the type of big gains for which he is known. His 94-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter snapped a streak of 16 straight points by Houston and temporarily put Tennessee back on top. He took a short pass and turned it into a 53-yard reception on the second play of overtime and set up his game-winning run four plays later. He also had a 34-yard run that started a first-half touchdown drive.

Those were three of the Titans’ four biggest gains of the contest and figured prominently into his 264 yards of total offense (212 rushing, 52 receiving). It was his third career game with at least 200 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns, something only Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson have done.

“We had situations where we're there and we don't make the tackle,” Texans defensive end J.J. Watt said. “I mean if you don't tackle, a guy is going to run and score, especially a guy that talented, that good. So, we did not do that.”

Record-setting offense: The Titans set a franchise record with 601 yards of total offense. They had 263 yards rushing and 338 passing, and the final 82 yards came on the game-winning drive in overtime.

In addition to Henry’s massive numbers, tight end Anthony Firkser set career-highs with eight receptions for 113 yards, and Brown caught two touchdown passes for the third time in his career. By quarter, the Titans gained 149 yards, 85 yards, 105 yards and 180 yards, respectively, prior to the 82 in overtime.

They ran 70 offensive plays, which meant they averaged a season-high 8.6 yards per play.

The previous mark for total offense in a game was 583 in a 1991 overtime victory against Dallas.

“I think they're just prepared for whatever situation comes up,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “You know, we can't ever guarantee what situations are going to happen, what front they're going to play, what coverages, so it's a continual process of just being ready for situations as they come up throughout the game.”

A questionable choice: Tennessee got help from Houston’s interim coach Romeo Crennel, who elected to try and put the game out of reach and go for two following Brandin Cooks’ 1-yard touchdown reception with 1:50 to play. An unsuccessful pass attempt left Houston’s lead at seven points (36-29), which meant the Titans needed just a touchdown and a PAT to get the game to overtime, which they did.

“I wanted to go ahead and get the two points,” Crennel said. “I felt like that would kind of put it out of reach for them.”

• A stirring comeback: Speaking of that two-point conversion, it failed because defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, Tennessee’s first-round pick in 2019, got a hand up and batted quarterback Deshaun Watson’s throw.

Simmons was one of the Titans players who tested positive during the team’s recent COVID-19 outbreak and the virus caused him to miss the previous game against Buffalo. He served notice that he was back when he made the tackle on Houston’s first offensive snap and nearly sacked Watson on the second.

Simmons later sacked Watson for a 12-yard loss on third-and-8 from the Tennessee 39 and forced a punt with 9:37 to play in overtime. It was the only one of Houston’s final five offensive possessions that did not end with a touchdown (not counting one play at the end of regulation).

"It’s just a mindset, you know?" Simmons said. "In a situation like that [two-point conversion], it’s all about who’s going to make a play. You don’t ever know when that time will come that you can change the game, and of course, I think that play right there changed the game."

Overcoming mistakes: Tennessee committed just one turnover in its first four games but had two -- a fumble and an interception -- a little more than 12 minutes apart in the second half.

Also in the second half, kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a field goal attempt blocked and missed another. Gostkowski had made every field goal since his Week 1 game-winner at Denver, including a career-high six in one game.

It had become expected that the veteran kicker would split the rights nearly every time he stepped on the field just as ball security had become second nature for the offense. 

"We have been in those types of moments where we have been down, or we gave up a lead, or whatever the situation is we have always been a resilient team," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "And I think that showed again."

Moving quickly: The game-tying drive that forced overtime began with an incomplete pass to running back Jeremy McNichols. After that, quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed eight straight passes to five different receivers. The gains were for as few as five yards and as long as 23. The offense never faced a third down as it covered 76 yards in 1:46 with the benefit of just one timeout.

The breakdown of receivers on the drive: Humphries 3-24, Firkser 2-30, McNichols 1-9, Kalif Raymond 1-6 and Brown 1-7 TD.

“Just go play confidently, one play at a time, and do what we do,” Tannehill said. “This is a situation, it's not new for us. … I know I have a ton of confidence in the guys around me that we're able to do that, and we showed again that we can.”

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