The Texans fell, 17-10, to the Tennessee Titans at home on Sunday afternoon. But the final score did not reflect Houston's struggles, both offensively and defensively.
"On both sides of the football, I'm talking about, up front, it's going to be a tough day," Head Coach Lovie Smith said. "It was bad football today we played, and you end up with a game like that. You look at the score and you say, 'Hey, you had a chance to win.' Never really were in it."
Offensively, the Texans mustered just 161 yards (118 passing, 43 rushing) and converted only 2-of-14 (14.3 percent) third downs. Davis Mills completed 17-of-29 passes for 152 yards, with one touchdown and one interception and a 69.9 passer rating. Dameon Pierce rushed for 35 yards on 15 attempts and caught three passes for 16 yards and a score. Brandin Cooks led the receivers with four catches for 73 yards.
"I felt like we just couldn't really get the run game rolling today, which is obviously what we've talked about all year focusing on," Mills said. "Put us in a lot of third and extra longs that are hard to convert. Just felt like that was the story of the day, couldn't get much rolling."
"They were very disruptive up front," Pierce said. "Threw our timing off with the inside zone runs that we wanted to get to, sometimes on the outside zone they got penetration backside, but kudos to them."
Titans running back Derrick Henry recorded his fourth consecutive game against Houston with 200-plus yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns. With starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill ruled out with a knee injury, rookie Malik Willis made his first NFL start. Willis completed six-of-10 passes for 55 yards, one interception and a 35.4 passer rating. He also rushed for 12 yards on five carries. The Texans defense sacked Willis three times.
Donte Hilliard added eight carries for 83 yards.
"It's unacceptable," LB Christian Kirksey said. "We got to find a way to win. We didn't do it tonight, but we got to clean up the mistakes we had and start playing better football."
Despite forcing two takeaways in the first half, Houston scored just three points. On special teams, Tremon Smith forced a fumble on the Titans' punt return and Dare Ogunbowale recovered.
On the Titans' next possession, Steven Nelson intercepted Willis and returned it 33 yards to the Tennessee 11-yard line. A 43-yard field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn gave the Texans a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter.
"Basically, we'd seen that route concept all week in practice," Nelson said. "Watched the quarterback's eyes and knew where he wanted to go with the ball and stepped in front of him and made the play, just tried to get as far as I can."
Henry passed 100 rushing yards in the first half following his 29-yard touchdown run to give Tennessee it's first lead of the game with 4:20 left in the second quarter. He would finish the day with 219 yards on 32 carries.
After putting up just 35 net yards of offense through the first half, the Texans trailed 7-3 at halftime.
On fourth-and-goal with 6:31 left in the third quarter, Henry scored again on a one-yard touchdown run. The Titans took a 14-3 lead.
The Texans defense held the Titans offense to a field goal on their next possession to give Tennessee a two-touchdown lead, up 17-3 in the fourth quarter. With just over four minutes remaining, Mills led a 12-play, 90 yard scoring drive. Cooks came up with a 26-yard catch on fourth-and-6 to extend the drive. Later, Mills connected with Cooks again on a 44-yard pass along the sideline to set up first-and-goal. One play later, Pierce caught a three-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to one score.
"Shoutout to Cooks, he got a big chunk play," Pierce said. "We just got into the redzone and punched it in. Nothing too fancy, nothing too crazy."
Houston attempted an onside kick but the Titans recovered with just 21 seconds remaining.
With the loss, the Texans fall to 1-5-1 on the season and will next face the Philadelphia Eagles at home on Thursday Night Football.