Photo by the author.
By Terrance Turner
Today, the Tennessee Titans made the playoffs with a loss by Miami. They slugged it out with the Houston Texans today in an edge-of-your-seat match that went right down to the wire. Today’s match started off slow, with a field goal apiece by both teams. But at the start of the second quarter, the offense lit up. Titans running back Derrick Henry took off, breaking tackles — including one by defensive end J.J. Watt — to streak down the field for the touchdow. Henry scored the game’s first touchdown, putting the Titans ahead 10-3.
After another field goal by the Texans, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill found receiver A.J. Brown for the touchdown. That extended the Titans’ lead, making it 17-6. A touchdown on the Texans’ drive was overturned; receiver Brandin Cooks stepped just outside the lines as he caught the ball. The Texans settled for a field goal, which Fairbairn kicked through. It was 17-9 at halftime.
As the second half began, the Titans put together a drive that included a 29-yard catch-and-run by Brown (?) and a crucial catch by tight end Anthony Firkser. The Firkser catch took the team into the end zone. Then Tannehill handed the ball to Henry, who jogged untouched into the end zone for the touchdown. That made it 24-9.
But the Texans put together a winning drive of their own. Watson found Cooks for the TD. But kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point. That made it a nine-point game. Tennessee padded the lead again on their next drive. The key, again, was Henry, who broke three tackles and slammed into another Texans defender as he ran. Then, as a fifth Texans defender tried to tackle him, Henry spun and landed on the ground, near the five-yard line. Tannehill kept the ball and dashed into the end zone to make it 31-15.
Watson found Cooks for another TD. But the two-point conversion failed, making it 31-21. The Texans caught a break, however, on the Titans’ next drive. Henry fumbled the ball. The Texans recovered and rapidly made it to the goal line. David Johnson ran in for the touchdown. That made it a three-point game: 31-28.
A.J. Brown made a crucial catch for the first down. Texans’ Charles Omenihu hit Tannehill in the face just after he threw the ball. Omenihu was flagged for roughing the passer, which added 15 yards to the end of the play. Automatic first down. The Texans later scored. Pharoah Brown caught the touchdown, to give the Texans the lead. They led for the first time — 35-31 — after scoring 20 unanswered points.
With time ticking away, the Titans mounted a drive. A rushing touchdown by Henry was wiped out by a holding call from the refs — which even the announcers disagreed with. But no challenge flag was thrown. The clock ran down even further, hitting the two-minute warning.
As the clock ran under 2:00, Tannehill made a run for it, getting all the way to the half-yard line. The Texans defense kept him from crossing the goal line. Tannehill eventually scored. But the refs again took the touchdown away, alleging illegal formation by the Titans. But with just 1:42 left, Tannehill tried again. This time, it worked: running diagonally towards the sideline, Tannehill finally scored. That gave the Titans a tenuous 38-35 lead.
The Texans were flagged on the extra-point try (for illegal formation) and then again on their punt return (for holding). The latter penalty cost the Texans 10 yards. Then — in an eerie example of history repeating itself — Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler got another joint catch. In a play similar to that of the Titans-Colts game, Butler caught the ball at the same time as Cooks. The refs upheld the original call of a completed catch by Cooks. That gave the Texans a chance.
After a heart-stopping last-chance drive, the Texans were forced to kick a field goal. Ka’imi Fairbairn nailed a 51-yard field goal to tie the game!
With the game tied at 38, the Titans had 18 seconds to put together a drive. Just when he needed to, Tannehill reared back and hurled a 54-yard pass, which was caught by A.J. Brown. That incredible catch put the Titans in field-goal range; Henry ran a few more yards to put the Titans closer. With four seconds left, the Titans attempted a field goal. Their kicker Stephen Gostkowski was out; a rookie was taking his place.
Somehow, the rookie made good. Samuel Sloman’s 37-yard field goal was a showstopper: the ball veered to the right, bounced off the upright and somehow went through. The result shocked everyone, but Henry’s reaction was one for the books:
The Titans win, 41-38. With this win (their 11th), they have won the AFC South for the first time since 2008. Not only have they made the playoffs, they have won their division. As usual, their strong running game was a key to their success. (The Titans are now the only franchise to have TWO running backs both achieve over 2,000 yards in a season.) And as usual, the motor for their high-powered offense was Derrick Henry.
Henry has won the rushing title for the second straight year. Henry’s 2,027 yards are the fifth-most ever in one season, per NBC Sports. He is only the eighth player in NFL history to have 2,000 rushing yards in a single season. And according to Yahoo! Sports writer Frank Schwab, he’s the first to achieve that since Adrian Peterson in 2012. Henry, according to Fifth Quarter Stats, has now rushed for 200+ yards and multiple touchdowns for the 3rd time this season. He is the 1st player in NFL history to accomplish this feat.
But it was the climactic, heart-stopping field goal by Titans kicker Samuel Sloman that sealed the game. Players on both teams reacted with shock and awe. But for the Titans, that surprise quickly gave way to jubilation — and celebration.