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A Massive Moment: Defensive Units Cherishes First Touchdown of Season | Week 17


The date was October 24, 2015. Louisville was playing Boston College at home and Sheldon Rankins was in his senior year on the defensive line for the Cardinals.

In that eventual 17-14 victory, Rankins scooped up a fumble and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.

A mere 114 games later, the NFL veteran was once again running into the endzone. This time for the Houston Texans on a 13-yard fumble recovery against the Tennessee Titans in an eventual 26-3 victory for his first-ever NFL touchdown on Sunday.

"As defensive linemen you don't necessarily prepare for those," Rankins said. "I mean you prepare for them but you just never really think they're going to be there."

Initially, Rankins was going for the sack of Titans rookie quarterback Will Levis. He had won his rush and broken through the line but before he could get to Levis, Texans defensive end Jerry Hughes had already arrived.

Levis never saw Hughes, who slapped the ball out of his hands and then sacked him to the turf.

"Jerry has really picked it up these past couple of weeks," Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. "To see him rushing with his feet off of the edge, really affecting the quarterback and disrupting the quarterback, that's what we want to see from Jerry in those passing situations. He's starting to show up big time for us."

Rankins added: "If you actually watch and pay attention to Jerry the whole season, he hasn't lost a step. He hasn't lost his ability to get around any tackle in this league."

Once the ball was out and on the ground, Rankins saw the ball and the first thing that went through his mind was hoping none of the Titans were close enough to him to tackle him.

The next thought – get into the endzone.

"Once I grabbed it, it was just to get into the endzone as fast as I can, that's really it," Rankins said. "I wish I had some more yards to run to get that GPS tracker up, get the speed going. But I'll take the touchdown anyway it comes. Just happy I could make that play for us."

Anytime the defense scores is a great moment.

For Texans safety Kareem Jackson, seeing the big guys in the trenches come up with it makes it even more special.

"Anytime they can scoop and score and get in the paint, obviously it's great to score as a defense any way you can, but to see the big guys create a fumble and be able to scoop and score for the trifecta, it's great," Jackson said.

With the fans in NRG Stadium roaring, after watching the Texans score 14 points in a mere eight seconds of gameplay, Rankins got to the back of the endzone and the celebration was on.

After processing that he had just scored, checking that there were no flags and looking at his teammates, it was time to celebrate.

"Once I settled in, I had to shimmy, it's what I do," Rankins said with a smile. "Happy to come up with that big play for us in a big game."

The defensive score was the first for the unit this season.

"When you can score touchdowns on defense, the win probability goes up," Hughes said. "That's all we need to do is keep winning."

Texans cornerback Desmond King II added: "That's a big accomplishment for our defense each and every year is getting a defensive touchdown. We made it come true this game. We just want to keep that momentum going into Indy."

The last time the Texans defense scored came last season on January 8, 2023, Jonathan Greenard returned an interception for a touchdown from 39 yards out.

The last fumble recovered for a touchdown came five years ago when Jadeveon Clowney did it against the Indianapolis Colts on September 30, 2018.

"Plays like that help our team so much," Texans safety Jalen Pitre said. "The momentum and obviously the points."

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