HOUSTON – The Titans beat the Houston Texans 41-38 on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the game as the team begins to turn its attention to the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday in the first round of the playoffs.
What a beast. Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for 250 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans. He broke his own club record of 238 rushing yards, and his rushing total on Sunday tied for the 13th-best single-game performance in the NFL since 1948. But that's not all. Not even close. Henry became the eighth player in NFL history to run for over 2,000 yards in a season. His 2,027 rushing yards total gave him the fifth-highest total in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson's 2,105 (1984), Adrian Peterson's 2,097 (2012), Jamal Lewis' 2,066 (2003) and Barry Sanders' 2,053 (1997). Henry broke Chris Johnson's franchise mark of 2,006 rushing yards in 2009. Henry also became the first player since LaDainian Tomlinson (2006-07) to lead the NFL in rushing yards in consecutive seasons. Henry led the league in 2019 with 1,540 rushing yards. Also, Henry became the fifth all-time NFL player to lead the NFL in rushing yards, attempts (378) and rushing touchdowns (17) in consecutive seasons. It is a feat that had not been attained since Cleveland's Leroy Kelly did it from 1967 to 1968. The only other players to achieve it are Jim Brown (1958-59), Steve Van Buren (1947-49) and Bill Paschal (1943-44). I could go on and on about Henry in here, but you get the picture. Yes, Henry stood out.
I thought the Titans would take a knee. After the Texans tied it at 38-38 with 18 seconds left, I figured Titans HC Mike Vrabel would have Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill take a knee, settle the team down, and then try and win it in overtime. Vrabel had other ideas. "I didn't know what the plan was going to be," Tannehill said after the game. "I asked Coach Vrabel as the kickoff team was lining up, 'What was the plan?' I said, 'Are we going? Are we taking it to overtime?' He said, 'We are going.' So, Tannehill stepped back, and unleased a 52-yard strike to receiver A.J. Brown, who was sprinting down the field. Brown caught it, of course. The play put the Titans in field goal range, and the team then won it with a field goal. It was an 'Oh my!' moment if I've ever seen one.
The field goal, of course, was made by unheralded kicker Sam Sloman. By now, you probably know a little more about Sloman, who was signed to the practice squad in November. But I can't state enough what an improbable story this turned out to be on Sunday. Up until this week, Sloman hadn't practiced with the team. Instead, he worked out on his own while the rest of the team practiced. He was isolated for safety reasons, just in case kicker Stephen Gostkowski got injured, or got COVID-19. Well, Gostkowski did end up on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. So, Sloman practiced with the team a few days leading up to the game, but he didn't get a chance to work with his holder, punter Brett Kern, because he just came off the Reserve/COVID-19 list himself on Saturday. On Sunday, Sloman kicked the game-winner from 37 yards out as time expired, and he was perfect on the day – 2-for-2 on field goals, and 5-of-5 on PATs. Sloman admitted after the game he still hadn't met some of his teammates. "It's been awesome to see everybody so excited for me after that last kick," Sloman said.
A.J. Brown's catch in the final moments capped off a memorable day, and year, for the second-year pro. Brown finished with 10 catches on 11 targets for 151 yards and a score. As a result, Brown finished the 2020 season with 70 receptions for 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns. He tied Drew Bennett (11 touchdowns in 2004) for the most touchdown catches in a season in the team's "Titans era" (since 1999), and in recording his fourth 100-yard game of 2020, he also became the 11th player to reach 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two NFL seasons. He also became just the fifth NFL player since 1970 with at least 2,000 receiving yards and 19 receiving touchdowns in their initial two seasons. On the flip side, it was a undoubtedly a disappointing day for receiver Corey Davis, who battled, but dropped a handful of passes while catching five passes for 39 yards. Davis finished the season just 16 yards short of 1,000 yards, and his impressive year-end totals look like this: 65 catches, 984 yards, five touchdowns. "My stomach is sick for Corey," Tannehill said. "I really wanted him to reach his mark as well, but it doesn't take way what a season he's had."
Up and Down Defense
The day on defense was a combination of good, bad, and ugly. Early on, the Titans got numerous stops as the Texans neared their goal-line. Holding the Texans to three first half field goals, well, that was a win. The Titans also recorded a season-high four sacks (Harold Landry, Brooks Reed, Jack Crawford, Desmond King) on Sunday, and the pressure forced Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson into some mistakes as well, including an interception by safety Amani Hooker. But the defense struggled down the stretch, as the Texans scored touchdowns on four straight possessions. The Texans punted just once on Sunday, as they racked up 457 yards and 38 points. It's hard to celebrate the defense on a day when so much damage was done, but hey, at least they got a stop at the end and held the Texans to a field goal, right?
This Titans team has already accomplished plenty, but of course there's more to be done. No one is satisfied with just making the playoffs. But, consider this: The Titans clinched a playoff berth for the second consecutive season under Vrabel, while clinching the organization's first AFC South title since 2008. In finishing with an 11-5 mark, the Titans won 11 games for the first time since 2008. The Titans finished with a 5-1 record within the AFC South in 2020, and with a road record of 6-2 in 2020, giving them six road wins for the first time since 2008. The Titans scored 30-plus points for the 10th game of the season, a new franchise record. The Titans scored over 40 points for the fifth time this season, the second-highest total in franchise history behind the six such games in 1961. The Titans became the first team in NFL history with a 2,000-yard rusher and a 3,500-yard passer in the same season (2,027 Henry, 3,819 Tannehill). These Titans also became the first team in NFL history to generate at least 2,500 rushing yards (2,690) and 3,500 net passing yards (3,653) while surrendering 25 or fewer sacks (25), and they finished the season with the most total yards in franchise history (6,343), the most first downs in franchise history (381) and the second-most total points in franchise history (491). Yes, these Titans have done some special things to date. Now, they have to find a way to beat the Ravens for the third time in a calendar year.