The Houston Texans put a stop to the Tennessee Titans four-game winning streak with a 24-21 win in Nashville on Sunday. After taking an early 14-0 lead, the Texans and Titans ended up in a scoring shootout in the fourth quarter, but Houston left Nashville with the victory and sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
"Those guys stayed focused the whole game," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "They played 60 minutes. It wasn't an easy game. We knew that there were some things we could do in the passing game. This is a very difficult defense to go against. It was just a hard-fought game."
Will Fuller V returned to the starting lineup after missing last week's game with a hamstring injury. He finished with five catches for 61 yards, averaging 12.2 yards per reception. DeAndre Hopkins exploded for 119 yards receiving on six catches. Kenny Stills scored a touchdown on two of his three receptions to give the Texans their first points of the game.
"You've got to give Tennessee credit, they did their job and had somethings covered up, but that's when your best players have to make some plays and D-Hop (Hopkins) definitely did that," Deshaun Watson said. "I was able to get the ball to him and let him just go work."
Watson completed 19-of-27 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a 92.1 passer rating. He also ran for 32 yards on seven attempts. Carlos Hyde finished with 104 yards on 26 carries and one touchdown, averaging 4.0 yards per carry, He has has now put together a 1,000-yard rushing campaign for the first time in his six-year NFL career with two games still remaining.
The Texans defense forced a key takeaway early in the game, an interception by Whitney Mercilus, while Houston's special teams blocked a Titans field-goal attempt. Zach Cunningham led the team with 14 tackles, 0.5 sacks and one quarterback hit in the win.
On the opening drive, Watson completed 4-of-4 passes to lead the offense into scoring territory, but his final pass was intercepted by Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro at the one-yard line.
Ryan Tannehill threw a deep 60-yard pass to A.J. Brown on the second play of the drive to get the Titans back into Houston territory. The Texans defense held Tennessee to a 45-yard field goal attempt, which was blocked by Angelo Blackson and recovered by A.J. Moore.
Two series later, Houston's defense made a game-changing play. With the Titans at first-and-goal, Whitney Mercilus picked off Tannehill's pass and returned it 86 yards to the Tennessee 12-yard line.
"That was probably the play of the game," O'Brien said. "We hadn't done much – well we had moved the ball on the first drive but we had an interception there, but that play really got us going."
Watson threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Stills two plays later. The Texans took a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
After Houston's defense forced a three-and-out, Watson connected with Stills again for their second touchdown. The Texans took a 14-0 lead after Watson's 16-yard strike to Stills on third down to cap off a nine-play, 72-yard drive that took 4:32 off the clock in the second quarter.
Also in the second quarter, the Titans attempted a fake punt on fourth down, but Lonnie Johnson swatted the ball away and broke up the pass.. The Texans headed into halftime with a 14-0 lead.
Tannehill scored the first points of the day for Tennessee on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Titans quarterback kept the ball on a one-yard keeper on fourth-and-goal. The Titans trailed 14-7 after the 15-play, 76-yard drive that lasted 9:26.
Watson led the offense down the field, but the eight-play, 60-yard drive ended in his second interception. Watson's pass, intended for Fuller, was tipped and hauled in by Titans linebacker Jayon Brown in the endzone. After a 57-yard gain by tight end Jonnu Smith, the Titans scored again. Tannehill threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Brown as the Titans evened up the score 14-14 with 13:35 left in the game.
The Texans scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Watson threw a 35-yard pass to Hopkins to get the Texans into Tennessee territory. After a 12-yard Watson scramble, Carlos Hyde scored on a 10-yard touchdown run one play later. Ka'imi Fairbairn kicked a 29-yard field goal on the following drive as Houston took a 24-14 yard with 3:26 remaining.
Tannehill responded with an 11-yard touchdown pass to end a quick scoring drive that took just 1:22 off the clock. The Titans trailed 24-21 and attempted an onside kick after the score. Justin Reid recovered and the Texans took over at the Tennessee 42-yard line.
The Texans improved to 9-5 on the season and will face the Titans again at home in the regular season finale on Sunday, December 29. On Saturday, Houston will square off with the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay.