By Terrance Turner
Jan. 9, 2022
In their regular-season finale, the Tennessee Titans battled the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Titans running back Derrick Henry was not activated for today’s game; he is still recovering from foot surgery. The team expects to have him back in time for the playoffs (which begin next week). Thus the team relied on star receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Brown and quarterback Ryan Tannehill (who shined in the game’s first half).
Tennessee advanced down the field on a lengthy scoring drive. Tight end Anthony Firkser had a 15-yard catch. Maliek Collins (Texans defensive tackle) was flagged for encroachment. (Five-yard penalty.) Tannehill, under pressure, threw to wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. The Texans defense was penalized again (this time Desmond King, for holding). Penalty declined. Tennessee running back Dontrell Hilliard (who played for Houston last season) ran for 15 yards. Then, in a sensational play, Tannehill hurled the ball to running back D’Onta Foreman, who ran towards the goal line and leapt over a Texans defender.
Freeman’s daring play took the Titans to 1st and goal at the one-yard line. Freeman ran in for the score. But the Titans were flagged for having an ineligible player (defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons). The Titans rebounded on 3rd and goal, when Tannehill passed to tight end Anthony Firkser for the touchdown.
With only 1:35 left in the half, Titans receiver A.J. Brown caught a pass from Tannehill at the 10-yard line and proceeded untouched into the end zone. That made it 14-0 for the Titans.
The Texans sabotaged themselves with penalties on both offense and defense. A 60-yard punt return by Tremon Smith was nullified by a penalty on Connor Strachan. Later, Texans cornerback Lonnie Johnson intercepted Tannehilll, but safety Eric Murray was flagged for pass interference. That penalty gave the Titans 1st and goal in the red zone; they converted when Tannehilll threw to Westbrook-Ikhine for the touchdown. The Titans led 21-0 at halftime.
The Titans had three straight three and outs to open the second half. Meanwhile, the Texans scored on all three of their possessions. Davis Mills threw a touchdown to receiver Chris Moore. Kaimi Fairbairn kicked a field goal with 2 minutes left in the third quarter to make it 21 to 10. Then, early in the fourth, 36-year-old wide receiver Danny Amendola caught a 7-yard touchdown — which he followed up with a successful two-point conversion catch. The Texans had scored 18 straight points, and they trailed Tennessee by just three.
The Titans answered when Tannehill connected with receiver Julio Jones for the touchdown. But the Texans had a response of their own. With the score 28-18, Amendola struck again, catching a 26-yard pass for the touchdown. It was back to a three-point game, with Tennessee leading Houston 28-25.
The Titans regained possession and kept the ball all the way into the two-minute warning. All they needed was a first down, and they got it when Dontrell Hilliard ran past the first-down marker. That pivotal play helped seal the deal for the Titans. They won, 28-25, and are now the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
“We had a lot on the line. We knew what we were playing for,” Tannehill said after the game. “Gotta hand it to Houston. They came out and played hard the whole game. Fought — but our guys fought back. We found a way to make plays down the stretch when we needed to, and that’s why I’m proud of our guys.”