I've tried to figure out how to start my Harris Hits for the 22-13 win over the Titans, but nothing seems right. Well, nothing other than YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH, BOY!! The weather became a huge factor. It was the most intense rain game of my sideline reporting career, even more so than in Buffalo earlier in the season. Yet, the Texans didn't blink. Not once. The defense was magnificent. The offense came up with big plays at key times. The special teams were outstanding all game long. Let's dive into my Harris Hits from this win over the Tennessee Titans.
I told Marc Vandermeer that he, Andre Ware and myself hadn't flown back together after a regular season win since December 19th, 2019. COVID kept our full trio from making all the trips in 2020, so, yeah, December 19th, 2019. You know how long ago that is? The Texans didn't have one offensive player today that played in that game. Not. One. I mean, there's A LOT going on in that sentence, but the fact of the matter is that it's been a while since we got on the plane with smiles AND a W.
I'm going to get to the defense which deserves its own Harris Hits for the way it played, but I'm going to start with a bit of redemption for QB Tyrod Taylor. Now, #5 doesn't look at the world of football in that regard, but after he walked off the podium after meeting the media in Miami after his first game back, I had a feeling that he would find a way to redeem himself after one of the toughest four quarter spans in his football life. He just didn't make a wrong decision today and that's what we've seen throughout his career. But, it was his two scramble touchdowns that led the way. Prior to his triple salchow and dive for the end zone in the first half, the offense hadn't been in the end zone in, well, let's just say a long time. When he dove across, the offense exploded. I could almost see the proverbial monkey on the players' backs dissipate into the cloudy Nashville sky. In the third quarter, after a Tremon Smith fumble recovery, the Texans had the ball in point blank range, but were stymied on two straight downs. So, it was third-and-goal from the five and Taylor went back to pass, feeling pressure from big Jeffery Simmons on his left side. Tyrod made him miss and he was free out to his left side but what he did next was super smart. I was standing in the back of the end zone screaming "RUN IT, TY!" He knew he was going to but he didn't want a defensive back to fall off coverage if he saw Tyrod tuck the ball. So, he kept running but threatened to pass the whole way until he reached the line of scrimmage, got Elijah Molden to turn his back to cover Brandin Cooks and then hauled a— for the pylon. It was just brilliant quarterbacking to make it look like pass the whole way until he could get to a point where he could score. Those two Tyrod tuddies were the difference.
When I write Harris Hits, I typically go stream of consciousness with my thoughts, turn my article in and then regret something I left out. My point is that the next big play/moment that popped up in my head was the last play of the first half. The Titans seemed to get a few breaks on that drive and it appeared that Titans QB Ryan Tannehill would get some points up on the board before the half ended. So, he got the shotgun snap and dropped to throw, as he was about to deliver, DL Ross Blacklock broke through the line and forced Tannehill off his spot. I'm convinced that Tannehill was totally and completely shocked to see Blacklock shooting through because he panicked a bit with Ross in his face. With 90 bearing down on the Titans QB, Tannehill launched one WAY out of bounds. I watched the clock hoping that it would expire before the ball hit the ground, but it hit the turf with three seconds left. My first thought was "dadgum, just missed it." Then, Tony Corrente and his officiating crew congregated for a split second before tossing a flag on the ground. I wasn't completely sure what it was and then he said intentional grounding which would back the Titans up the field…then he continued "That penalty comes with a ten second run off which ends the half." I was stunned but as I then meandered down the sideline to find Coach Culley for our halftime discussion, I saw DL coach Bobby King get up near Ross and said something to the extent of "DO YOU KNOW HOW BIG A PLAY THAT WAS?!?" Even Ross seemed to be a bit shocked and I heard a few WOWs as well.
It was one of the best games I've seen Blacklock play and there were a number of defenders that fall into that category as well. But, I started with Ross, so I'll finish with his effort. He slid past the Titans RG for one of the Texans two sacks on the day. He had two TFLs, one came on a brilliant play on a screen to stop Titans RB Adrian Peterson. He had a QB hurry and four tackles. He was quick, tough and physical. Now, lining up on sides every play? We definitely have something to work on :)
The number of guys up front that made plays too, again, was plentiful starting with DL Maliek Collins. He's tearing guys up, regularly. When the Titans came back on the field with just over three minutes in the game, they decided to hand the ball to RB D'Onta Foreman and Maliek SMASHED him and got some finishing help from Jaleel Johnson who also played well, posting three tackles and one of the eight QB hurries. Collins, though, has been a handful the past few weeks, whether he's knifing into the backfield in the run game or winning one-on-one with his pass rush.
Coming off the field, I looked at DL Jacob Martin and he knew. I just looked at him and asked whether he hit the tackle with his patented go-to move. "YOU KNOW IT!" The Texans didn't recover his strip sack fumble, but the pressure he and others put on Tannehill helped lead to the interception fest that was the second half.
Now that I've mentioned interceptions, let's get to the one that gave me flashback chills to, well, the season I referenced in the opening - 2019. In that winner-take-all game in December 2019, the score was 0-0 and the Titans were driving for a touchdown to take the lead. Then, Justin Reid struck, knocking a pass through the arms of TE Anthony Firkser into the arms of Whitney Mercilus who then took off for the far end zone. Whitney was caught by TE Jonnu Smith before he could make it into the end zone. Flash forward to the second quarter and the Titans were driving for the same end zone that they were in 2019. Justin didn't hit the ball this time, but LB Kamu Grungier-Hill saw the play the whole way and darted In front of WR A.J. Brown, snagged the pass and then sprinted for the same end zone as Whitney two years ago. In similar fashion, KGH was caught inside the ten, but it set the tone for the rest of the game, the opportunistic nature of this Texans defense on this day. KGH NEARLY had another one in the fourth quarter but the ball was so slick that he couldn't quite corral it for his second pick. Regardless, KGH was all over the field. He had 12 tackles, that interception, two QB hurries and two more pass breakups. His teammates got on his case, tongue-in-cheek style, that he couldn't make it into the end zone on the pick, but his play was no joke in this win.
Fellow linebacker Zach Cunningham is playing his best ball of the season, racking up 11 stops, one forced fumble and a TFL that was vintage Zach. The way he can absolutely bring big ball carriers to a complete stop in their tracks has always been impressive and he did that against today on a Titan RB. He nearly saved a touchdown when he smashed RB Dontrell Hilliard at the three-yard line and knocked the ball to the turf, but TE Anthony Firkser was close enough to corral the loose ball and score the second Titans TD of the day. Regardless, Zach was outstanding.
The one guy, though, that I sought out after the game was DB Eric Murray. I think it was the best game I've seen Murray play. He's gotten so much more comfortable next to Justin Reid at safety and it shows in his play. He finished with 11 rock hard tackles, but it was his pass break up on fourth down in the fourth quarter that might be one of the top five plays in this game. The Titans trailed 19-6 but got a drive going to end the third quarter. As the game entered the fourth quarter, the Titans had a 4th-and-6. Tannehill took the snap and got some pressure go he leaked out to his right side. I thought he might try to make a break for it and pick up the six yards on the scramble but he spied TE Firkser. So, he threw back across his body a bit and before Firkser could snatch the pass for the gut punch first down, Murray broke out of nowhere to knock the ball away and save points from going up on the board. The past two weeks since being reinserted as the starter, Murray has made plays in coverage and been stout against the run. This is the Eric Murray I KNEW when watching him years ago at the University of Minnesota. He's not moving all over the place - he's just playing safety and playing it well now. I'm proud of how that dude has responded.
When it comes to former B1G crushes, for me, it starts with CB Desmond King II. I've mentioned often how much I admired the way he played the game and was stoked when he signed in Houston. It's been a little bit of a rocky road at times this year, but today, against his former team, King II may have been as good as I've ever seen him in the NFL. I hate to admit that I missed his first interception. Obviously, the rain was a major factor and my mic was getting wet so just after Tannehill hit Nick Westbrook-Ikhine on a big play down the field in the fourth quarter, I stopped behind the bench to dry off the mic. Then, I hear Marc say "INTERCEPTED…KING!!" And, my goodness, what a pick that was! Then, in the fourth quarter King did something that I can say I haven't seen Texans corners do a lot in the past few years - he beat the WR to the spot after running the route for him and breaking on the ball for his second pick. Once he had the ball, I thought "GO SCORE". So did Desmond but he got knocked out of bounds at the TEN 15-yard line. It was enough to give K Kaimi Fairbairn a shot to knock home a game clinching field goal.
I don't love to see guys get injured and knocked out of the game, but perhaps the most important play King made was the hit he put on WR A.J. Brown that ended Brown's day. Brown caught a pass on the Titans sideline and King hit him with everything he had. I watched Brown the entire time and he didn't get off his knee for the next three plays. I thought he might be done after that rock hard hit from King and he never came back into the game. Even before he went out of the game, Brown had been held under control for the most part, catching just five passes for 48 yards through three quarters. Considering what A.J. had done to the Texans in four previous meetings, that was certainly holding him in check.
When the Texans signed Tavierre Thomas this offseason, I'll be honest, I didn't know a ton about him, other that in covering the Browns in 2020, he had started and played a bit. Yet, he was a bit of mystery in some sense, having played his college ball at Ferris State in Michigan. But, in training camp/preseason games, it was clear that, at a minimum, he could be a terror on special teams. But, he's become a valued member of the defense with his speed, physicality and smarts at nickel. He finished the game with five tackles on defense and a couple of big-time hits, in addition to four tackles on special teams - a total of nine tackles on a day when the Texans needed every single one of them.
The play of the day on special teams, though, was a little bit of a gift and some hustle. The Texans offense had the ball around the Titans 35-yard line with a 12-0 lead. Inside at NRG Stadium or with better weather, I'm confident that K Kaimi Fairbairn could knock home three points. But, on that field yesterday, a slip and a miss or a low kick due to the conditions that gets blocked was all in play. So, Coach David Culley decided to let P Cam Johnston pooch one inside the five-yard line. Gunner A.J. Moore sprinted down to position himself between the five-yard line and the goal line to down the ball deep in Titans territory. Titans PR Chester Rogers tried to occupy Moore's attention, started toward Moore and then tried to run away from the landing spot. Then, the ball hit his foot. Tremon Smith dove on it which led to Tyrod Taylor's second tuddy. I had moved to the end zone thinking Coach Culley might have Fairbairn kick the field goal and he didn't make an immediate decision so I just stayed in the end zone and had the perfect view of the ball hitting Rogers' foot. At that point, it took all of my willpower to not run on the field and cover the ball myself. Thankfully, Tremon was flying to the ball too and got on it before Rogers could dive back on it and save his own bacon, so to speak.
Fairbairn did get that opportunity to give the Texans a nine point lead in the fourth quarter and knocked home a key field goal for a 22-13 lead.
I feel like interceptions are contagious and, after seeing his pals pick three during the day, DB Terrance Mitchell went and got his first as a Texan just prior to the two minute warning. He played cover two perfectly, dropping underneath the sail route to the sideline and essentially ending the game on the spot. In the past two games, the Texans have six interceptions from five different players (Murray, Collins, King 2x, KGH & Mitchell)
The Texans running game was certainly not going to win awards, but I love, LOVE the fact that RB Rex Burkhead got the lion's share of the carries today in this muck and mud. I saw it in training camp, he had some juice and needed a shot to get rolling a bit. His numbers won't wow anyone (18 attempts for 40 yards) but he had a couple of key carries to pick up first downs. And, oh by the way, the Texans offensive gave up no sacks and just one QB hurry.
Alright, that's a great place to end Harris Hits after the most glorious, rainy day in recent memory. See ya at NRG next week, everyone!
Be here this weekend as the Texans host the Jets on Sunday. Kickoff is set for noon CT. Click here for tickets.