Notebook: Run Game Finds Stride


Tennessee established the run early, and Chris Johnson rushed for a season-high 141 yards, but the Titans lost ground on the Texans in the AFC South standings.

Johnson carried the ball a season-best 25 times en route to his 29th career game of at least 100 yards rushing. He averaged 5.6 per carry, and the Titans rushed more than they passed for the first time this season (29 carries to 27 pass attempts).

Johnson said he felt like he got in a "groove" early.

"I think I had 10 or 11 carries in the first half," Johnson said. "It's always good to get in your groove and keep playing. Playing running back you have to keep getting the ball in your hands or whatever, later on in the game."

The Titans' offense was forced to change quarterbacks after its second possession ended with a sack of Jake Locker. Houston safety Glover Quin blitzed from Locker's right, and J.J. Watt hit Locker from the left side, striking the same shoulder that Locker injured in the season opener.

Matt Hasselbeck relieved Locker and went 17-for-25 passing for 193 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Hasselbeck said the Titans were encouraged by the way Johnson ran the ball.

"We ran the ball well, and I thought that the first run of the game that he had, he hit it hard and kind of fired our sidelines up and when are sidelines get fired up, our coaches get excited about it, get confidence in it, and we stuck to it," Hasselbeck said. "Seriously, we called the same two plays to the right and the same two plays to the left in each personnel grouping. We didn't do anything tricky. We just said we're going to keep doing it. He ran hard. He ran well. Unfortunately, we got really behind and we went to kind of a two-minute offense just because of the score."

A one-score game in the third quarter fell out of balance when the Titans suffered multiple penalties, and the Texans returned two interceptions a total of 118 yards and two touchdowns in the second half to claim a 38-14 victory.

"Even after we came out at the halftime it was still 14-7," Johnson said, "it was still right there and their defense just made a couple big plays and you look up and it's 21-7, 28-7, so of course you've got to start running and passing the ball to try to get back in the game. But I feel we took a step (in the running game Sunday)."

The Titans (1-3, 0-1 AFC South) lost their second road game of the season, and the Texans (4-0, 2-0 AFC South) continued the best start in their franchise history.

Tennessee fell behind 14-0 after the first quarter, but Hasselbeck helped the Titans cut the deficit in half by the half.

Hasselbeck fired accurately on his first attempt for a 25-yard completion to Jared Cook to end the first quarter. That possession stalled, but the gain and a 52-yard punt by Brett Kern helped flip field position on the Texans.

The Titans forced a three-and-out, and Hasselbeck helped the Titans overcome two penalties on their next possession that ended with his 19-yard TD pass to Craig Stevens. Tennessee worked past an illegal block penalty called against Tommie Campbell during the punt return, and an offensive pass interference penalty called against Jared Cook.

Facing first-and-20 from their own 26, the Titans gained six yards from Chris Johnson, then 13 on a pass from Hasselbeck to Nate Washington. Hasselbeck converted the third-and-1 by rolling out and hitting fullback Quinn Johnson for a gain of 17, and Chris Johnson followed with a rush for 19 on play before the TD to Stevens.

PENALTIES, TURNOVERS SLAM DOOR SHUT: The Titans were moderately pleased with trailing 14-7 at halftime with the opportunity to receive the ball to start the second half, but a slew of penalties and costly turnovers derailed their momentum.

Tennessee gained field position on its first possession of the second half, pinned Houston deep in its own territory and forced a punt by Donnie Jones.

Darius Reynaud fielded the punt at the Tennessee 42-yard line and returned it to the Houston 30, but the play was negated by a holding call against Taylor Thompson. Officials marked off 10 yards from where Reynaud caught the ball, which is recorded as one penalty for 10 yards, but the real damage was 38 yards of field position. The backbreaker was the play that followed.

Hasselbeck tried to get a considerable amount of that yardage back on the first play after the punt and fired a deep pass to Thompson, but it was a little behind the tight end. He got one hand on it, and it bounced into the hands of Danieal Manning, who returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. Officials flagged Titans tackle David Stewart for a personal foul during the return and marked off 15 more yards on the ensuing kickoff.

Stewart drew another 15-yarder on the following possession, and the Titans also committed a delay of game shortly thereafter to total four penalties for 45 yards in eight snaps. The Texans quickly padded their lead with a 28-yard TD pass from Matt Schaub to Owen Daniels to go up 28-7.

Tennessee finished with seven penalties for 73 yards while Houston was flagged once for three yards.

Jordan Babineaux, who led the Titans with 10 tackles, said Tennessee suffered critical wounds in that stretch.

"We had that kick return and had the ball down at the plus-30 and suffered a 40-yard penalty." Babineaux said. "Then they had the interception for a touchdown. That was the turning point. We were driving and in position to put points on the board. That definitely was the turning point."

A sack of Hasselbeck and forced fumble deep in Tennessee territory led to a Texans field goal, and Kareem Jackson returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown with 3:57 left.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said it was disappointing that the Titans made costly mistakes.

"There is no doubt that we helped them," Munchak said. "They returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Obviously you can't do those things against good football teams. We knew to beat them, we couldn't do that and we did. So yes, we made it a lot harder than it needed to be in this game."

LOCKER TO HAVE MRI:Locker had X-rays taken at Reliant Stadium and will undergo his second MRI out of four Mondays this season. He and the Titans did not know what bearing the re-injury will have on Locker's availability this week.

"I think we need to find out exactly what happened and then we'll make the decision on what's best," Munchak said. "Obviously, we'll always do what's best for the player, especially for a quarterback. So yeah, we'll evaluate that when we get more information (Monday)."

WRIGHT SCORES LATE: Rookie receiver Kendall Wright scored his second career touchdown—an 11-yarder from Hasselbeck with less than a minute to go. Wright also led the Titans with four catches for 46 yards.

He has 18 catches for 148 yards on the season.

RINGER RETURNS: Javon Ringer played in his first game of the 2012 season. Ringer suffered an elbow infection before the season-opener. The fourth-year pro had two carries for 14 yards.

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