Mariota rallies Titans to win over Texans
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Looking back on last year’s near-miss in terms of winning the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans realized they had to do a better job in division games.
Although it hasn’t been pretty, mission accomplished.
Rallying from a double-figure deficit for the third time in a division game, Tennessee kept pace with Jacksonville atop the South with a 24-13 decision over the Houston Texans Sunday in Nissan Stadium.
Last year, the Titans went 2-4 in the division, including a 0-3 mark on the road. Their Week 16 loss at 2-12 Jacksonville ultimately cost them the division title. This year, they are 4-1 against division rivals with a Week 17 game against the Jaguars still on the docket.
“We talked about it,” Tennessee head coach Mike Mularkey said. “We realized that it cost us a spot in the tournament. We knew this year that we had to win games in the division — on the road and at home. Our guys are coming through.”
It usually takes the full 60 minutes, and it normally comes with a few gulps of antacid along the way, but the Titans (8-4) are finding ways to win games. They trailed 10-0 with 10:40 left in the first half after Tom Savage’s 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Stephen Anderson, but they reeled Houston (4-8) in by the half and then grinded out the win by dint of making key plays in the second half.
Two of those came late in the third quarter. After tight end Delanie Walker’s apparent first-down conversion grab on a third-and-14 was ruled a yard shy by a replay review, Tennessee eschewed a potential 44-yard field-goal try by Ryan Succop and went for the first down.
Derrick Henry pounded out a 3-yard gain to the 24. Walker then flashed open over the middle and Marcus Mariota hit him in stride for the tie-breaking touchdown with three seconds left in the quarter for a 17-10 lead.
It was Walker’s third catch on the drive, good for 55 yards.
“We needed plays to get down the field and Marcus made some great throws,” Walker said. “The touchdown gave us some momentum.”
What Walker’s scoring grab gave the Titans, cornerback LeShaun Sims’ play preserved. Following a 22-yard pass from Savage to Anderson on fourth-and-19, the Texans had the ball at the Tennessee 29 with a chance to steal victory.
Sims instead saved it. Savage lofted a throw toward DeAndre Hopkins, who had eight catches for 80 yards, but Sims picked up the ball and made a diving grab near the back right corner of the end zone with 1:08 remaining.
It was the only mistake for the turnover-prone Savage, who was 31 of 49 for 365 yards in one of his best games. But his 13th turnover in seven games this year was the one that doomed Houston to its fifth loss in six games.
“Tom was slinging it pretty good,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said. “We called a double move and it didn’t work out. I thought he played well.”
Henry sealed the verdict with 46 seconds left, speeding 75 yards with an option pitch down the left sideline for a touchdown that gave him 109 yards on 11 carries.
Ka’imi Fairbairn put Houston on the board less than six minutes into the game with a 23-yard field goal nine plays after rookie Adoree’ Jackson fumbled at the end of a 25-yard punt return. That was one of a spate of mistakes that colored the Titans’ efforts early.
But Tennessee finally got going late in the first half with a 75-yard touchdown drive, scoring when Mariota kept the ball on the read-option and zipped 9 yards around left end with 4:18 on the clock. Ryan Succop converted a 43-yard field goal with three seconds remaining before halftime, tying the score at 10.
Fairbairn, who missed from 48 and 26 yards after his first-quarter field goal, converted from 42 with 4:37 left in the game to draw the Texans within 17-13. However, the Titans again came up with the necessary plays at the end to move another week closer to their first playoff berth since 2008.
“We don’t want to start slow,” Tennessee free safety Kevin Byard said. “But no one on the sidelines gets down when we get down. Everybody just focuses in and says we have to win this game. We just keep at it.”
Mariota finished 15 of 23 for 150 yards and no interceptions. He tossed six in the last two games.
NOTES: Tennessee deactivated WR Rishard Matthews (hamstring) for the second straight game, with veteran Eric Decker drawing the start in his place. ... Other inactives for the Titans were QB Brandon Weeden, CB Kalan Reed, DB Curtis Riley, FB Jalston Fowler, G/C Corey Levin and DE David King. ... Houston inactives were WRs Will Fuller V (ribs) and Cobi Hamilton, OLBs LaTroy Lewis and Brennan Scarlett (foot), G Kyle Fuller, T Julien Davenport (shoulder) and NT Chunky Clements.