Titans continue winning ways by topping Texans

The Tennessee Titans continued their recovery from an 0-6 start that included back-to-back blowouts showed to all or much of the country by beating the Houston Texans, 20-17, on Monday night football. Chris Johnson paced the Titans offensively, while Vince Young continued his career resurgence, and Rob Bironas hit two field goals from 50+, including the game-winner in the last minute as Texans K Kris Brown missed twice from similar range, including one at the end that would have forced overtime. For a blow-by-blow summary, check out the liveblog I did.

The game was pretty even from start to finish, as neither team had a multi-score lead the entire game. The Texans opened the scoring with a Slaton TD reception after drive that started in Titans territory after a short punt, but the Titans came back and matched that with a 10 play, 80 yard drive capped by a VY pass to Britt. The Texans went back up, 14-7, after Andre Johnson beat Nick Harper at the line and hauled in a 12 yard pass to end a 58 yard drive, but the Titans equalized their next possession when LenDale White plunged in from 1 yard out in the last minute of the second quarter.

After half, the Titans drove into the red zone but Vince Young lost the ball on a keeper. The Texans drove down, but Kris Brown missed a 49 yard field goal to give the Titans their best field position of the night. They took advantage of that thanks to two Vince Young scrambles to convert 3rd downs setting up Bironas from 50. The Texans tied it up, thanks to a big pass from Schaub to Johnson, on a short field goal, and the teams ended the third quarter tied as well. Bironas missed from 49 on the ensuing possession, then the two teams exchanged punts twice before the Titans got the ball at their own 6 with 2:52 to play and drove 59 yards for the game-winning FG.

Offensively, Vince Young was for the most part pretty efficient. He started 8 of 12 before finishing 12 of 22 for 115 yards. Few of his throws were high degree of difficulty, but he did have a couple good ones, including a 27 yarder to Bo Scaife. He also hurt the Texans a lot with his legs, scrambling for several first downs and finishing with 10 carries for 74 yards plus a kneeldown. Scaife and Britt were the top targets, each with 4 catches. Nate Washington had 1 catch for 14, plus a couple other deep chances, at least one of which he should have hauled in.

As indicated above, though, CJ28 was the offensive star of the game. While he was shut out in the reception category, he had 29 carries for 151 yards. With 29 carries, that’s the fourth week in a row he’s set or tied his career high in carries. Clearly, he’s been the focal point of the offense and deservedly so-it’s tough to describe in this recap just how much he brings to the table. He averaged a shade over 5 yards a carry, yet that feels somewhat like a disappointment. He does so much for the team, it’s a shame he feels wasted in trying to salvage a lost season.

One day, Jake Scott will stop false starting. Tonight was not the tonight, as he picked up two. I guess that makes up for the absence of the normal defensive offside/encroachment penalties. Jerome Boger is still a bad referee, though, as he missed a blatant trip on Vince Young on a 3rd down play that would have extended a drive, then his crew gave the Titans 15 yards when they started backed up on the game-winning drive on a phantom horse collar. If Boger’s name sounds familiar, he also did the Titans-Texans game at LP Field last year, when he was the only person in the stadium who didn’t see Vontae Leach continually false starting.

The defense was ok for the most part. Matt Schaub was mostly limited to the underneath game, though he did hit a couple big passes, including to TE James Casey and to Andre Johnson to set up scores. Importantly, the Titans took him to the turf 4 times, with Tony Brown getting 2 and Vanden Bosch and Fuller each credited with 1 more, plus Hayes and Ford also knocking him down. It seems odd to say Andre Johnson was held in check when he had 4 for 78 and a TD, but that really is much less than he’d done the previous two matchups, both Titans losses. David Anderson and Steve Slaton each had 5 receptions, plus Kevin Walter 4, and virtually all of those were underneath patterns, mostly crosses, as the Texans tried to take advantage of the age of Keith Bulluck and the inexperience of Gerald McRath, with occasional success.

That sort of strategy was also apparent in the run game, as the Texans seemed to attack the edges rather than up the middle, with middling success. Despite the stories about how Slaton was going to get all the work, Chris Brown led them in carries with 11 for 36, while Slaton only had 5 for 21. The Texans running game was not a factor tonight.

Kevin Kaesviharn was the punt returner, and his sole job was to fair catch the ball. That included at his own 6, typically a no-no. Michael Griffin was the kickoff returner, and had 1 good return out past the 30, but was mostly mediocre. I suspect the Titans don’t want to use him on special teams quite as much as they do, but I’d like a winning lottery ticket. Bironas was 2 of 3 on long field goals, and that beats Kris Brown’s 0 of 2, for the difference in the margin. Strategically, I hate that, but full credit to Rob for what he did tonight. Brett Kern had 1 terrible punt but was otherwise fine.

I suppose I should also mention Fisher’s call of a fake punt with the game tied at 17 on 4&7 at the Texans 38. The direct snap to Nickey would’ve worked had the Titans not snapped the ball a couple seconds after the playclock expired. Were I incredibly cynical, I’d suggest Fisher did it on purpose to keep up his rep as a bold and aggressive coach without having that actually impact the game. I’m not quite that cynical. As indicated above, I thought the Titans went to conservative after they got to the edge of field goal range. I also didn’t like the call of passes on first and second down from the Texans 40 with a minute to play-just seemed like an odd mix of play-calling. Ah, well, validation by results.

Really, that’s what this game was. Vince Young was reasonably efficient, if never spectacular, Chris Johnson impacts the game in so many ways and still does jaw-dropping things, and the defense plays well enough. The 2009 Tennessee Titans, despite their terrible start, did something the 2008 Titans didn’t, and that’s win a close game in Houston. Next up, another test for the pass defense as the Arizona Cardinals come to town. For now, though, enjoy the win. I know I will.

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