Much to build on: Titans close 9-7 with win over Texans

Playoff hopes were so high after the thrilling win in Kansas City, hopes completely taken away with the nightmare in Jacksonville. However, the 2016 season ended on a high note after all for the Tennessee Titans, 9-7 with a gritty 24-17 victory over the Houston Texans.

The Texans, also 9-7 but 5-1 in the division vs. the Titans 2-4, win the prize the Titans were after, AFC South Champions and a home playoff game next week. But based on what we saw here and frankly what we have seen the second half of the season, it is a playoff game the Texans are unlikely to win.

It was a first half that seemed to set the game of pro football back 50 years. The Titans gained only 97 yards on offense, but the Texans only had 57. Texans QB Tom Savage went into concussion protocol, and the $72 million man Brock Osweiler came in. Savage actually returned just before the half to take a knee to end the half, then we were told during halftime Savage had gone back into the protocol—either that or Coach Bill O’Brien saw how bad Osweiler still was and decided he was not going to push Savage with the playoff game next week.

Scoring opened at the 9:57 mark of the opening quarter as Sean Spence sacked Savage, forcing a fumble recovered by DaQuan Jones in the end zone for a 7-0 Titans lead. Little happened until late in the first half when Titans QB Matt Cassel found Rishard Matthews over the middle for 25 yards on a third-and-16 at the Houston 17, the first of four connections on the drive, the last being a two-yard TD just before half making it 14-0.

The second half was much more entertaining than the first, and the smaller but enthusiastic crowd certainly appreciated it. Houston put a drive together behind Osweiler, 13 plays and 81 yards, culminating in a fourth-and-goal pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz, free after pushing off Avery Williamson. Houston then attempted an onside kick from the 50, recovered by Tennessee. The Titans went 55 yards on 10 plays featuring the running game, with Derrick Henry scoring from the two to make it 21-7.

DeAndre Hopkins burst for 51 off a short pass, a misstep by LeShaun Sims, leading to a 26-yard Nick Novak FG to make it 21-10. After a 35-yard Ryan Succop FG, the Texans drove again. Again on fourth-and-goal, Osweiler scrambled up the middle for a one-yard TD to cut the Tennessee lead back to seven. Derrick Henry’s exuberance, running out of bounds twice, allowed the Texans one last chance but Jurrell Casey’s sack of Osweiler effectively ended matters.

For Coach Mike Mularkey, it was a solid if not satisfying season.

“Winning is hard to do in this league, and obviously, a really good feeling,” he said. “But still disappointed we are not playing. Feel a little bit empty here that we don’t have a chance to keep going after today.

“There’s a lot of accomplishments that I know took place, but it was more about winning, starting 2017 in the right frame of mind, going into the offseason with a good feel about yourself. That was important, winning the game, not about what came with it.”

The improvement from three wins to nine is remarkable, and where to proceed from here is clear. More reps for the young stars, adding some to the defense especially in the secondary, and January 2018 could be pretty special for the Tennessee Titans.