The Tennessee Titans didn’t make the playoffs, but wound up with a decent consolation prize, finishing their season with a 24-17 victory over AFC South champion Houston on Sunday.
The victory technically tied the Titans with the Texans for first place in the division at 9-7, though Houston will host an AFC Wild-Card playoff game next weekend.
“It’s a little bittersweet obviously, because you want to continue to play, but it was huge division win and it was good to go out with a winning record,” said running back DeMarco Murray.
When the game was over, the Titans were already focusing on 2017, while some were believing that they were actually the best team in the AFC South in 2016.
“Definitely. Hands down,” defensive end Jurrell Casey said of that notion. “It was just one mistake here or there that let those teams catch up and win against us. If we clean those mistakes up, then we would have beat all these teams with a sweep. We’ve got confidence that we can do that. So next year, the South Division had better be ready.”
Tennessee goes home, having taken steps forward this season, including Sunday when they posted their first winning season in five years and ended a five-game losing streak to the Texans in the process. In addition, five of their nine victories this season have come against teams that entered Sunday either having clinched a playoff spot or in control of their playoff destiny.
“We’d rather be in the playoffs. It’s just a bad feeling in your stomach after this game, knowing that we probably were the better team in this division,” tight end Delanie Walker said.
The Titans picked up the win with backup quarterback Matt Cassel at the helm. Cassel was mostly efficient, hitting 16 of 26 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown and one interception. Receiver Rishard Matthews caught nine of those passes for 114 yards in the game.
The defense got things started for the Titans as Sean Spence sacked Texans quarterback Tom Savage and knocked the ball free. Defensive end DaQuan Jones picked the ball up as it bounced to the end zone for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead. That score was the Titans’ first non-offensive touchdown this season, coming in the final game.
“They didn’t count me in the protection, and I came through,” said Spence.
After both offenses struggled for a good part of the half, the Titans put together a drive late in the first half, cashing in when Cassel found Matthews for a 2-yard touchdown pass that pushed the Titans’ lead to 14-0.
The Texans answered when Brock Osweiler, who replaced Savage after he sustained a concussion, found C.J. Fiedorowicz with a 4-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal that cut the lead to 14-7.
Tennessee answered, however, with 10-play, 55-yard touchdown drive that ended with Derrick Henry scoring from 2 yards out.
The Titans held on to their lead throughout and finally sealed the victory with a defensive stand in the final minutes as a fourth-down Osweiler pass was off the mark.
The win, while a bit hollow, knowing that the Texans are headed to the postseason and not them, was still a welcome improvement for a team that had won just five games combined in the previous two seasons.
“We’re letting everybody know that we’re going to be the team in this division,” said center Ben Jones, who left the Texans and joined the Titans as a free agent in the off-season. “We came into a couple of games with some key situations where we didn’t execute, but we know we’re right there, so we can make this division our house beginning next year.”