In the early days of the Texans, the Titans loomed as a menacing force. Not only were they the team that left town and extinguished the name (and let’s be honest, the history as well) of the Oilers, they were really good, too.
They went to the Super Bowl in ’99 and lost by a yard. And when the Texans came on the scene two seasons later, they were still a dangerous playoff contender. The first four meetings went Tennessee’s way, including a last second gut-puncher on Christmas weekend in ’03 that saw Steve McNair hit Drew Bennett for the game-winner on 4th-and-10.
McNair was named Co-MVP with Peyton Manning following that year. That’s right, children, the AFC South turned in Co-MVP quarterbacks. That’s the kind of headwind your expansion Texans were facing.
So here we were in ’04 with a better Texans team that somehow got off to a rocky start. They began 0-2 but beat Kansas City and Oakland and lost an overtime thriller to Minnesota that included an Andre Johnson helicopter TD catch that got renewed airplay during his Ring of Honor weekend.
Then came a date with the Titans on the road. Titans week always had a big buildup on the airwaves. There were still Titans fans in Houston. I would take calls from them. They couldn’t let go, like not giving up on the significant other that dumped you. It was perhaps easier to hang on back then because the Oiler memories were fresh and the Titans were playing well.
It was Week 6. The Texans were coming off the subpar defensive performance against the Vikings but they still had a lot of talent on that side of the ball. McNair had his hands full as the Tennessee ground game struggled. He took to the air but the Texans played the takeaway game to perfection with four interceptions.
The Texans ground game was nothing to write home about, but they stuck with it. Jonathan Wells had a touchdown. David Carr threw a TD pass to Jabar Gaffney, who combined for nine catches with Andre Johnson.
The defense made stop after stop, pitching a second half shutout. Walking out of the stadium in Nashville that day was a great feeling. It was a huge hurdle to overcome, at the time. Later that season, the Texans would do it again, at home, completing a season series sweep.
The Texans finished 7-9, two games ahead of the Titans, who were slowly taking apart their Super Bowl team. Eddie George and Frank Wycheck were already gone. McNair would play in Nashville one more year.
Both teams struggled mightily the following season, setting up the drama going into the 2006 draft. But that’s a story for another day.