HomeSportsTexans stun Titans, shake up AFC South race

Texans stun Titans, shake up AFC South race

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Texans, with their league-worst record, played Saturday’s game focused on themselves. 

But in the process, they had a big impact on their division rivals, disrupting the AFC South race. 

Houston stunned divisional-foe Tennessee 19-14 on Christmas Eve at Nissan Stadium for its second victory of the season. The win sent the reeling Titans (7-8) on a five-game losing streak and out of first place in the AFC South. The ascending Jacksonville Jaguars, on a three-game winning streak, now lead the division.

Most importantly for the Texans? The victory snapped their nine-game skid. Their only previous win came Oct. 9 at Jacksonville. 

“It shows the type of guys we got in this locker room,” receiver Brandin Cooks said. “To continue to fight, no matter what’s going on.”

The Texans’ game-winning drive came late in the fourth quarter. With Houston trailing 14-13, quarterback Davis Mills completed three consecutive passes, including back-to-back deep balls — a 20-yarder to receiver Phillip Dorsett and a 37-yarder to Amari Rodgers — to get the Texans in goal-to-go range. Two plays later, Mills connected with Cooks for the go-ahead touchdown.

Houston missed the ensuing two-point try, its six-point advantage leaving the door open for Tennessee to regain the lead. But rookies Christian Harris and Jalen Pitre picked off quarterback Malik Willis — starting in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill — on the Titans’ final two drives. Pitre’s interception came on Willis’ desperation heave to Treylon Burks in the end zone with five seconds left. 

Pitre and Harris became the third rookie duo in franchise history to record interceptions in the same game. And they weren’t the only Texans rookies to get a takeaway, either. 

After conceding a 10-7 halftime lead, Houston got back into the game when linebacker Jake Hansen, who went undrafted out of Illinois, stripped star running back Derrick Henry in plus territory. The ball was recovered by defensive lineman Jonathan Greenard, leading to a 10-play drive and a 54-yard field goal that cut the Texans’ deficit to 14-13. 

“For whatever reason, we haven’t made plays and breaks haven’t come our way,” coach Lovie Smith said. “But if you keep fighting, you keep playing, keep showing up, things normally change.” 

The Texans have been eliminated from playoff contention since the conclusion of Week 13, but they’ve continued to play with effort. They entered Saturday’s game with momentum in spite of a long losing streak. How so? Well, they held fourth-quarter leads against the Cowboys and Chiefs the past two weeks, losing to Dallas by four and falling to Kansas City in overtime. 

In Nashville, they found a way to finish. 

“It shows us that if we keep pushing, we’re going to see the light,” said Pitre, who had a team-high nine tackles to go with his interception. “This week, we did what we needed to do.”

According to Smith, the Texans looked at this contest as the start of a new three-game season — at Tennessee, versus Jacksonville, at Indianapolis. Three division opponents. Even with its playoff chances long gone, Houston could still finish with the top in-division record among AFC South teams. 

By beating the Titans (3-2 division record), the Texans (2-1-1) pulled into the top spot. 

“We’re playing in our division. That should get you pumped up,” Smith said. “You shouldn’t need any more incentive than that.”

Draft implications

Big picture, this is really what matters for the Texans. How did their win impact their chances of the No. 1 overall pick? With the league’s worst record, Houston currently has the inside track on the top selection in the 2023 draft. That’s been the case for most of the season. 

Houston (2-12-1) is now just a half-game ahead of Chicago (3-12), which holds the second-worst mark and fell to Buffalo on Saturday. 

The Texans’ other first-round pick, acquired last offseason from the Browns in the Deshaun Watson trade, is currently pegged to be 10th overall, according to Tankathon. Cleveland was eliminated from playoff contention Saturday with its loss to New Orleans.

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Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur

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