By Terry McCormick
The spirit was willing, but their execution was weak as the Tennessee Titans dropped a 27-20 decision to the Houston Texans Sunday at NRG Stadium.
The Titans, who trailed 14-0 in the first quarter, battled back to tie the game at 17 and again at 20 against their division rival. But after coming back from costly mistakes early in the game, the Titans yielded a 67-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter to Texans rookie Will Fuller, giving Houston the lead for good.
“The good news is we are capable of winning these games, but we are finding ways to lose them with just a handful of plays,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said.
Tennessee, which dropped to 1-3 on the season, had its opportunities, but in the fourth quarter, when the Titans needed one of their comeback drives, it simply did not materialize. The end result has Tennessee two games under .500 after three games for the third straight season.
“Losing is losing. Of course, there’s horseshoes and hand grenades, and that’s it. But we need to do the little things. As a team, as a whole, we are better. Our record does not show that. We need to do the little things consistently,” tackle Taylor Lewan said.
The Titans defense, which struggled early in the game, giving up scores on Houston’s first three drives, got a fourth-down stop that set up the Tennessee offense at the Titans 42.
The Titans moved downfield and got as far as the Texans’ 28, but two consecutive passes for Andre Johnson fell incomplete as the Texans held on for the victory. The Titans got one last play after forcing a Houston punt, but the ball was fumbled following a couple of laterals.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota struggled all day to find a rhythm, hitting just 13 of 29 passes for 202 yards with one interception. It was Mariota’s fifth interception in four games this season for the Titans.
“I’m not going to say he is trying to do too much, because he did a lot of things out of the pocket,” Mularkey said. “He made some plays and he made some throws out of the pocket with guys late. I am not going to take that away from him. That is what’s special about the guy. … He was just trying to make a play and keep the drive going. Obviously, you can say bad decision now after the fact, but I am not going to hand tie him. He has too much threat with his ability to run, throw the ball and move.”
Running back DeMarco Murray provided a good chunk of the Tennessee offense, rushing for 95 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns as the Titans pulled even momentarily in the first half at 17-17.
The Titans could have gone to the locker room tied and getting the second-half kickoff, but a special teams penalty on fourth down with the Texans punting, gave Houston enough yards necessary for Nick Novak to connect on a 45-yard field goal and take a 20-17 lead into halftime.
The Titans tied the game on the first series of the third quarter, moving down to the Houston 8-yard line before the drive stalled. Tennessee settled for Ryan Succop’s 26-yard field goal. Succop had connected from 48 yards in the first half for the Titans’ first points.
In the first half, after giving up 17 early points and trailing 17-3, the Titans engineered a pair of scoring drives, both capped by Murray. Murray scored from two yards out and from one yard out.
The Titans defense did do a good job of stopping DeAndre Hopkins, holding the Texans star receiver to just one catch for four yards. Twice when the Texans were throwing to Hopkins, the Titans intercepted Osweiler, first by Jason McCourty (leading to a touchdown drive) and then by Perrish Cox.
The Titans must regroup, facing yet another road game as they travel to face the Miami Dolphins next Sunday.
Mariota said the Titans will continue to learn and improve and hopefully put themselves in better position to win soon.
“We’re going to continue to grind it out. We’ll learn. Eventually we’ll be able to be one of those teams where we are up. But right now, we’re going to continue to stick to our process, continue to learn from our mistakes, and get ready for next week.”