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Win in Tennessee | Harris Hits

OH MAN, that's a win that I'll never forget!! In a season in which nothing has seemingly gone right at key times in many games, the Texans came through with a win to remember. The Texans had lost nine in a row heading into this one, but left the Titans with a five-game losing streak of their own to deal with over the final two weeks of the year.

Here are my Harris Hits from a memorable day in Nashville:

The weather is the perfect place to start in this one, including the one-hour delay to start the game. Players, coaches, staff and fans all have their pregame rituals and their routines. But, we all knew that there was the possibility of an issue once we got to Nashville. As soon as the flight landed, we were made aware of the rolling blackouts in the city and surrounding areas on Friday. But, we didn't have one at the hotel that I remembered so all seemed fine, even though the "feel like" temperature was below zero.

Anyhow, on Saturday morning, when we arrived at the Stadium, there was talk of postponement by the Nashville Mayor because of the pull on the electricity grid in the city. Then, when we went to the field, nothing was set up. Typically, the field is set up WELL in advance - the heated benches were pushed up against the wall and no sideline equipment was in its place. In fact, the field still had the tarp on when we got there around three hours before kickoff, well, original kickoff time.

About an hour and fifteen after we arrived, the announcement was made that there was going to be an hour delay. I typically set up in the interview room which, at Nissan Stadium, is separated by a door into the locker room. That door was open as some players, staff were going back and forth. I asked Coach Smith if there was a delay and he said yes and then chatted with me for a bit. Then, the music went back on in the locker room and no one was worse for the wear. They were all pretty loose and didn't seem rattled at all, no matter if their routine was disrupted. They then played that way all day long. They took a shot and returned two of their own. They got hit in the gut, then hit back in the gut twice as fierce. It was fun to watch this team continue its ascent over the past few weeks. EVERYONE contributed to the win and it was AWESOME…in that building…again.

Oh, that makes three out of four wins in Tennessee against the Titans - 2019, 2021 and 2022. It also makes four straight years in which the Texans were tied or ahead at the end of regulation. Amazing to think about where this team has been the past few years, yet in Nashville, it's responded the way that it has.

But, there was one thing that HAD to happen if the Texans were going to come home with a win - slow down Derrick Henry. Now, if Henry were to average his yardage total for 17 games, he'd finish the season with 2,142 yards. But, BUT, let's dive a little deeper into his TRUE rushing numbers. He had 126 yards but 48 yards came on one run that gave the Titans a 7-0 lead. So, with 22 other runs, the Texans held Henry to 78 yards. Let me repeat, the guy who had four straight 200-yard games against the Texans had under 80 yards on 22 carries against a defense that is ranked last in run defense. Now, we have seen the run defense improve throughout the season, so that's not a last in the league rush defense that Henry faced on Saturday and let's be honest, what he has done against the Texans is just incredible, so it was time. But, still, he's a beast and the Texans played as tough at the line of scrimmage as they have all year long.

They also had Maliek Collins back. That alone made life difficult on a rebuilt Titans' guard-center-guard trio. Collins was disruptive from play one to the last play. He didn't have much trouble with the interior players and it's been clear that he was supremely missed during that stretch in the middle of the season when teams ran extremely well on the Texans defense. He had two TFLs, a QB hit and a pass defensed as he dominated the interior for much of the afternoon.

They had a rebuilt Ogbo Okoronkwo in Week 16 too. In that Week Eight meeting, Ogbo wasn't a major factor and it wasn't until the Giants game in Week Nine in which he started playing the run about as well as any edge player on the roster. He's improved immensely week after week playing the run, which has earned him the opportunity to rush the passer. That's something that Ogbo does exceptionally well. He did that to Titans QB Malik Willis all day long. He got a gift sack on one in which Titans LT Dennis Daley didn't hear the snap count, but he also was disruptive on so many other pass attempts, winning repeatedly with his rushes. He finished with five tackles, two sacks, three TFLs and two QB hits. Add in Maliek and THIS Ogbo and the Titans offense faced a completely different unit than it did back in the first meeting eight weeks ago…and the results were obvious.

The interior defensive line played its guts out in my opinion. During that middle stretch of the season where teams had a ton of success in the run game against the Texans, Roy Lopez Jr. struggled. But, in the last five or six games, he's played some of the best football of his career. He drew a key holding penalty on a play that could've been a big gain for the Titans in the first half. He also fought through a block to get his hands on Henry on that key Jake Hansen forced fumble. Henry was so concerned with Lopez that he never saw Hansen who made the strip.

This is a great spot to talk about, well, I can't call them rookies anymore - Coach doesn't like to use that word this late in the season…so let's go with the first-year players on defense.

DB Jalen Pitre was magnificent again in run defense, chopping down Henry multiple times and he finished with nine tackles, an interception on the final play of the game and another pass defensed. He was outstanding again and had the Texans won a number of the games in which they were close in the fourth quarter, Pitre would absolutely in the mix for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He still is, but a better overall record would make him a sure favorite with the way he's playing over the past six weeks, in particular. This is how well he's played in 2022 - Pitre is the third rookie since 1991 to have 125+ tackles and four interceptions. Kiko Alonso did it with the Buffalo Bills in 2013 and some guy named Cushing did it 2009. CUSH!!!!

LB Christian Harris had six tackles and that key interception in the fourth quarter, in addition to two other passes defensed. The interception was a bit harry as it looked like he wasn't going to hold on to it. Fortunately, he eventually latched on and it became his first career interception. He should've had one earlier in the third quarter too. The Titans were backed up near their own end zone as Willis dropped to throw. He immediately got pressure so he darted to his left and dropped sidearm to sling one into Harris' area. Honestly, I don't think that Harris thought Willis could get that type throw off, and through the chaos, toward him. So, it caught him flat footed while Titans WR Robert Woods reached back for the catch. Had Harris reacted properly, he would've darted in front and taken that throw to the house for his first interception and a pick six at that. But, it's the Holidays, it's not time to get greedy! He got the RIGHT one!

Hansen made arguably one of the most important plays of the game with his strip of Henry. The Titans picked up a first down to end the third quarter around midfield and it looked as if it was going to be another Derrick Henry Special sort of fourth quarter. So, on first-and-10, the Titans came out in a standard I-formation with his TE as a lead blocker. The Titans ran lead zone to the left with Henry following his fullback up in C-gap (between T & TE). But, Hansen came up to play contain and kept Henry from taking a direct path to the sideline. As such, Henry bent the run back to the inside, but when he did Hansen wheeled around to help on the tackle as Henry powered for about four or five yards. Henry never saw Hansen because his vision was back inside trying to fight off the tackle of Lopez. As Henry fought off Lopez, Hansen hit Henry and immediately stripped the ball out. JUST PERFECT - TOTAL TEXTBOOK STRIP! The ball sat on the turf for a millisecond before Texans DL Jon Greenard pounced on it. The Texans went down and kicked a field goal to cut the lead to 14-13 What a massive play that was by the rookie from Illinois!

One of my favorite moments in this game happened on a Henry run in the third quarter. The Titans star ran to the defense's left and had to avoid a defender initially. That gave rookie DL Thomas Booker a clear shot on Henry and Booker hit him with all that he had. The Titans superstar bounced off of him and ran forward for six yards. DL Jon Greenard ran over from the opposite side of the field and chided his first-year teammate that hitting Henry was just the start and that he needed to finish the play. A little while later, there was Booker making a solid tackle on Henry for a one yard gain.

His fellow interior rookie Kurt Hinish missed a tackle, like Booker, earlier in the game on Willis, but he also came back and made a couple of tackles, including a tremendous TFL on Henry in the backfield.

The Texans carried four wide receivers on the game day roster and all four made massive plays in the game for the Texans. WR Chris Moore came up with a catch on a first and 20 play after a Davis Mills-to-Brandin Cooks TD connection was nullified. That catch got the Texans into field goal range before the end of the half.

WR Phillip Dorsett just always seems to be on the right end of key catches in every Texans win. Last year at Jacksonville, the go ball against man coverage that set up a TD. Last year against the Los Angeles Chargers, he had a great, diving catch down the sideline on a deep one. On Saturday, all three of his catches were tremendous and tremendously important. The first big one was a Tony Two Toe Tap on the sideline early in the fourth quarter that went for 18 yards and a big first down on the field goal drive that cut the Titans lead to 14-13. Then, he beat Roger McCreary on a mesh route crosser for a 20-yard catch on the game winning TD drive late in the fourth quarter. WR Amari Rodgers' only catch of the day was a brilliant 37-yarder on a go ball against McCreary that got the Texans inside the low red zone. I had the perfect angle on that throw from Mills as he just lofted the pass to the perfect spot for Rodgers to run through and take down the field. Brilliant. Then, there's the OG Brandin Cooks who thought he had a 33-yard TD in the first half, but it was called back for a holding penalty. No matter, he came up with the game winner as he beat Titans S Lonnie Johnson to the back pylon and made a wonderful catch for the Texans to take the lead in the fourth quarter with just 2:58 left in the game.

The man that made those throws was Mills and he finally had that fourth-quarter drive that he's been dying to have. On that final drive, he hit Brevin Jordan for six yards, then Dorsett for 20 and a first down, then Rodgers for 37 yards and a big first down and finally Cooks for the six-yard TD pass. Four for four, 79 yards and a TD. THAT'S how you draw it up. In the cold. In the wind. In a hostile environment. Division opponent on the road. Mills reached deep to find it for that drive to give the Texans win number two on the season.

The offensive line went back to the combination that started against Kansas City with Tytus Howard at LG and Charlie Heck at RT. That group didn't give up a legitimate sack against Kansas City. On Saturday, though, Howard went out of the game with a concussion in the first quarter so Jimmy Morrissey went into the game and fared well…until he had to come out of the game with a concussion. Justin McCray had to step in and hold it down for the rest of the game and I'm not totally confident that Justin was anything more than an emergency situation. But, when the emergency arose, McCray stepped in and did well. So, I bring all of that up to say that Davis Mills took one sack. That's the first legitimate sack that the Texans OL has given up since the trip to Miami…on November 27th. Cleveland - none. Dallas - none. Kansas City - one, but that was just because QB Jeff Driskel ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage. Titans DL Denico Autry had the only sack for just three yards. That's it. Four weeks, one sack and that's with a few different combinations on the line as well. With more time, Mills has had more success and the offense has been able to move the football throughout a game and not just in one half or the other.

So, the Texans gave up just the one sack and sacked Willis four times. They picked off Willis twice, both by rook…I mean, first-year players. The Texans doubled the Titans passing yards. The Texans held Henry to well under four yards a carry on 22 of his carries. The Texans had eight TFLs to the Titans five. The Texans had four trips into the red zone while the Titans had just one. The Texans held the Titans to 272 total yards and 48 of that total came on one play, not to mention yards in the final drive against prevent defense. That 272 yard mark was the lowest the Texans allowed all season long.

Alright, I'm sure that I've left something on the cutting room floor, i.e. my brain just forgot, but I'll end it right there. I said earlier that I would remember this win forever. Why?

It was against THAT team, the former AFC South leader

…in their building

…in a frigid environment

…with a one-hour delay

…with a complete TEAM performance

…that ended a nine-game losing streak that had multiple gut-punch losses

…last and certainly not least, it happened on Christmas Eve. That's 2-0 since I've been on the sideline in Christmas Eve games too (2016 to clinch the AFC South v. Cincinnati and today).

In a long season that has not gone the way anyone wanted or expected, the Texans strung together a tough-minded performance that gave Texans everywhere a holiday gift that's as nice as anyone could imagine.

That's going to do it from a very happy, exhausted plane ride home on Christmas Eve night. Hey, wait, is that who I think it is outside my window? Nah, can't be, can it?!?

"ON DASHER AND DANCER, ON COMET AND CUPID…"

Have a great holiday, everyone! See ya next week!

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