It was not elegant. It was rarely pretty. They needed some fluke luck to seal the deal. But in the end, the Tennessee Titans got what they didn’t get in 2006: a win in the final game of the season to keep their playoff hopes alive against an opponent who know they were playing the next weekend. This time, as in 2006: 23 points, this year’s magic number. For the opponent: not 40, but 22, sealed when a false start and then an awful shotgun snap on two-point conversion with :13 to play by a Houston Texans team determined to avoid overtime.
It almost seemed like a sort of joke, Week 17 ball security issues redux. Last year, the Titans were in Rob Bironas field goal range in a tie game against the Colts, when a busted center-snap exchange led to a fumble the Colts converted into their own game-winning field goal. This time, it was a rare carry by Ahmard Hall, a change-up call after Chris Johnson motioned out wide, when the Titans were trying to get one final first down so they could kneel it out. Hall’s shown a propensity to fumble in the past, and he did again this time, then picked up a concussion to add injury to insult, and the Texans had the ball in Titans’ territory with a chance to tie or take the lead they nearly did after Jake Delhomme found Bryant Johnson in the back of the end zone.
Then again, give the Titans’ seemingly unprepared defense credit. They were supposed to face T.J. Yates and Andre Johnson, not Delhomme and Bryant. Gary Kubiak, though, crossed people up. Arian Foster sat. Owen Daniels sat. Johnathan Joseph, their good cornerback, sat. T.J. Yates picked up a shoulder injury on a sack the opening drive, and sat the rest of the game. Other regulars, stars and not, were gradually removed as the game went on, especially in the second half. Tight end Garrett Graham played Sam linebacker the Titans’ final offensive series.
It was a good thing the Titans ended up with Delhomme and Bryant, and Bryan Braman and Mister Alexander on defense, and the like. The game started promisingly for the Titans, with a fast-paced empty backfield attack designed around Matt Hasselbeck getting the ball out quickly and attacking the questionable depth of the Texans’ secondary. It worked, at least until Hasselbeck couldn’t connect with Nate Washington on third down, and Munchak punted on fourth-and-four from the Texans 41. An opening sack put the Texans in third-and-long, but Yates hit TE Joel Dreessen, and then it looked like the first game. Outside zone, inside zone, bootleg pass, and Ben Tate caps it off with a touchdown.
The Titans cut it to 7-3 early in the second quarter, off a third-down completion to Washington, a big pass to Cook, and a big gain by CJ where the Texans were simply outmanned at the point of attack on the edge. They couldn’t punch it in, though, and Munchak took 3 points from the three. The Titans then got a break, when Dave Ball turned the corner on Duane Brown and smacked the ball out of Delhomme’s hands. Chris Hope pounced on it. First play, Hasselbeck found Cook again, this time for 25 yards on a seam route against over two-deep coverage, and three plays later forgotten man Donnie Avery had his first catch as a Titan for six points and the lead. The Texans tied the game at 10, but the Titans would push ahead right in final minute of the first half, thanks to passes to Cook, CJ, and a big one to Avery to field goal range right before the close of the half for a 13-10 lead after two quarters.
The Texans would tie it up, though, and the teams would trade field goals one more before before the Titans took the lead with less than five minutes to play. They started off with good field position near midfield, and after another pass to Donnie Avery, Hasselbeck found an open Washington over the top of rarely-used CB Brandon Harris for the go-ahead TD. The Titans then forced the Texans to go four and out, thanks in part to a sack by Casey, and had a chance to run the clock out with a couple first downs, seting the stage for the endgame.
Brickbats, plaudits, and other notes:
- Kudos to Chris Palmer for that pass-heavy gameplan. The Texans played their secondary depth, and the Titans attacked it. Matt Hasselbeck completed 22 of 35 for 297 yards, and both touchdowns. He didn’t have a great game, missed some passes I’d like to see him complete, but overall I thought he had strong game.
- Damian Williams had two catches, but went out with a rib injury, creating an opportunity with Donnie Avery, who ended up with three grabs for 45 yards, all of them helping set up scores.
- The other hands of the Titans receiving corps were Washington, who had four grabs for 92, including the game-winning TD and a big 55-yard catch to set up another field goal, and Cook, who had four catches of his own for 63 yards.
- Chris Johnson had a couple decent runs in the four-minute drill, plus the big 27-yard gain, but otherwise was not much of a factor. Overall, he had 15 for 61 plus four catches for 49. He finished over 1,000 yards rushing for the season. Whoopee!
- Hasselbeck went down twice, both times to Antonio Smith, who gave Leroy Harris fits at times. Smith didn’t play the second half.
- The Texans were very vanilla in the first half with their normal personnel, but much more like their regular defense in the second half with a bunch of scrubs. Seeing the Titans be inconsistent against both challenges makes me fear what the offense would have looked like against the good players running the hard defense.
- I’m resigned to the Titans playing Chris Johnson eight figures in 2012 to do more of the same, but he needs to make a better effort in pass protection than he did on Bryan Braman in the second half today. An ineffectual attempt at a cut-block is not good enough.
- I said something nice about Jurrell Casey in the recap, but overall was not very impressed with the Titans’ defensive line or front seven in general. They were gashed badly at times, and Arian Foster would probably have made it worse.
- As they were the prior game, Texans wideouts were not a big factor. Of course some of that had something to do with Jake Delhomme playing most of the game at quarterback. He’s not that good.
- I made the case this week that Rob Bironas should made the Pro Bowl ahead of Janikowski, at least if every team needs a representative in the Pro Bowl, and he continued his excellent season today.
- The prior Texans game was a very “short” one, in terms of both teams not having very many possessions. This game, both teams had effectively a dozen possessions. A more turnover-filled game, like the Bucs contest, had more, but that’s a sign of both teams struggling to sustain drives.
- In this recap, I’ve tried to give this game its credit for what it is, rather than sweeping it up in looking back at the season. There will be time the rest of this week and as we proceed forward.
Well, that’s my take on the final game of the 2011 season for the Titans. At 9-7, admittedly a better mark than I expected, but once again short of the postseason. Stay tuned to Total Titans this week for more end of season coverage, and we’ll start heading into a normal free agency and draft process.