Role Reversal: Texans make key plays late to dump Titans 19-14

Dec 24, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Houston Texans safety Jalen Pitre (5) celebrates after intercepting a Hail Mary attempt to end the game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Role Reversal: Texans make key plays late to dump Titans 19-14

It took the Houston Texans more than three quarters to get it figured out, but in the end, they figured out the keys to success just in time, pulling out a late 19-14 come-from-behind victory over their division rival, the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.

This game started slowly with both teams trading three-and-outs before Derrick Henry put an early stamp on this game.

On the Titans’ second possession, Henry broke through the middle of the defense for a 48-yard touchdown run to give the Titans an early 7-0 lead with 8:48 remaining in the first quarter. Henry entered the game with four straight 200+ yard efforts against Houston, and it looked early on like it could happen again.

The Texans would answer right back. Houston embarked on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 6:14. A 30-yard connection from Davis Mills to Jordan Akins set the Texans up with a first-and-goal at the Tennessee 8. On third-and-goal from the Titans 6, Davis Mills scrambled right side and extended his arm trying to score, but he fumbled. Rex Burkhead recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown. It wasn’t how they drew it up, and it did require the good fortune of the ball bouncing closer to Burkhead than any defender, but it got the game tied up with just over 2 minutes remaining in the first quarter.

After the Texans defense forced a three-and-out, Houston’s offense went for another long drive to put points on the board.

A 13-play, 52-yard drive that devoured 8:10 off the clock would result in a 25-yard Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal. Houston was set up with excellent field position after Desmond King’s 9-yard punt return gave them possession at their own 41. A pair of Jeff Driskel passes to Chris Moore for 13 and 12 yards keyed the drive. Houston took a 10-7 lead with 6:50 remaining in the first half.

Neither team could do much offensively for the rest of the half, and 10-7 is how they went to the break.

Houston had the ball to start the third quarter but failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 47 on a curious call. Jeff Driskel was stopped for no gain off left tackle. Driskel, who is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, seems like an obvious candidate for a quarterback sneak when needing 1 yard. He is big and strong but not necessarily a burner. The call failed, and it gave the Titans momentum.

Tennessee took advantage and went right down the field in 6 plays and 3:34 to take the lead. The Titans gained all 52 yards on this drive on the ground, with Malik Willis scoring on a 14-yard run. Tennessee took a 14-10 lead with under 9 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Texans would then have a disastrous next possession, as facing a third-and-13, Davis Mills threw a pass short left for Brandin Cooks that was intercepted by Jack Gibbens at the Houston 47. He would return it to the Texans 40, setting up a short field for Tennessee and a chance for the Titans to seize control of this game with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter.

The Texans’ defense was up for the challenge, however. After holding Henry to a 2-yard gain on first down, they forced three straight incompletions from Malik Willis, including a fourth-and-8 from the Houston 38, and took over on downs.

The Texans couldn’t capitalize, and the teams would trade multiple three-and-outs before a fumble would change the trajectory of the game.

On a first-and-10 from the Houston 44, Derrick Henry would get stripped by Texans rookie linebacker Jake Hansen, with the returning Jon Greenard recovering the fumble at the Texans 42.

The Texans would chip away at the deficit with a 10-play, 54-yard drive that chewed up better than 6 minutes and finished with a 22-yard field goal by Fairbairn to make it a 14-13 game with 7:25 remaining in the fourth quarter. Davis Mills connected with Phillip Dorsett for a pair of passes that totaled 25 yards on the drive. Facing fourth-and-goal from the Titans 4, head coach Lovie Smith elected to kick the field goal and secure easy points instead of going for it. With the strength of Fairbairn’s leg and the fact his defense had stopped the Titans on six of their previous seven drives, it seemed like a wise choice.

The Texans’ defense would force another three-and-out and get the ball back on their own 27 for what would be the biggest drive of the game.

Davis Mills was at his best on this drive, going 4-for-4 for 69 yards, capped off by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks to give the Texans the lead with just 2:52 remaining in the game. Mills hit Dorsett for a 20-yard gain and Amari Rodgers for a 37-yard completion as Houston marched 73 yards in just 5-plays and 2:15.

On Tennessee’s ensuing drive, Derrick Henry ran the first two plays for a total of 17 yards before the Titans decided to stop running and put the ball in the hands of their rookie quarterback. After an incompletion and a pair of scrambles for 13 yards, Willis threw short left for Treylon Burks but was intercepted by Texans rookie linebacker Christian Harris at the Texans’ 42. Harris returned the pick 20-yards to the Tennessee 38 with 1:39 remaining in the game.

Houston couldn’t convert offensively, but Cam Johnston dropped a perfect punt at the Titans 4 that was downed by special teams ace Tremon Smith with 1:17 to go.

Facing a desperate situation, Willis heaved a Hail Mary pass to the end zone that was intercepted by rookie safety Jalen Pitre to seal the game and deliver Houston its second win of the season.

With the win, the Texans improved to 2-12-1, and the Tennessee Titans fell to 7-8. With the loss, the Titans fell to second place in the division, behind the 7-8 Jacksonville Jaguars, who currently hold the tiebreaker advantage.

Despite the win, Houston still owns the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

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