Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 11: Texans 22, Titans 13 — Four Winners, Four Losers

Texans DC Lovie Smith had his guys ready to go, with four interceptions of Ryan Tannehill.
Texans DC Lovie Smith had his guys ready to go, with four interceptions of Ryan Tannehill. Photo by Eric Sauseda
This 2021 NFL season has been a strange one, to say the least. it feels like the torch for "best team in the league" has been passed at least a half dozen times in the last couple months, and on a micro level, the AFC has certainly been rife with parity that same way. As of Week 11, the Tennessee Titans, at 8-2 and with a 7-0 record against 2020 playoff teams, had found their way to the top of the AFC standings, just in time to face the Houston Texans.

As has happened almost every time a team rises to the top of the AFC perch, an upset comes out of nowhere. The Jets did it to the Bengals a few weeks ago, the Jaguars did it to the Bills two weeks ago, and on Sunday, it was just the Texans' time. Lovie Smith's defense was able to intercept four Ryan Tannehill passes, and somehow, the Texans were able to overcome their most inept 20 minutes of offensive football of the season (which is saying something!) to close out a 22-13 win over the Titans.

The Titans will still emerge from this weekend as the number one seed in the AFC, as they'd built a game and a half lead on the next closest teams, but injuries have created some serious holes on their team, and credit David Culley and the Texans for taking advantage. After eight weeks of hell, 2-8 never felt so good! So let's get into some winners and losers from a wet, rainy Sunday afternoon in Nashville.

WINNERS


4. A ROAD TOUCHDOWN!
After a drought that stretched over four full games, 273 minutes and 49 seconds of game clock, two starting quarterbacks, and a couple of monsoons, the Texans finally scored a road touchdown! Two of them, in fact! The last time that had happened, Davis Mills was throwing a quick pass at the goal line to Brandin Cooks. This time, it was Tyrod Taylor, on two startlingly similar, and equally improvised (and poorly executed as drawn up in the playbook) plays, a couple of scrambles to the left in goal to go situations after the initial play, as called, broke down. So all hail Tyrod Taylor, the streak ender and touchdown getter!

3. Desmond King
A couple weeks ago, King was rendered inactive in the Halloween Day game against the Los Angeles Rams for reportedly missing a team mandated event. This was unfortunate because, in addition to being one of the team's better cornerbacks, he had also taken over punt return duties from the departed Andre Roberts. On Sunday, King's 180 degree turnaround was completed, as he was huge defensively for the Texans, with two fourth quarter interceptions, including a pick and run that set up the Texans' final field goal to give them a two score lead at 22-13. King's third best play in the game won't show up in the box score, but his perfectly clean hit along the sideline on Titans WR A.J. Brown knocked Brown out for the afternoon, which certainly helped matters for Lovie Smith's defense. Hey, speaking of Lovie Smith...

2. Lovie Smith
... I paid him the ultimate compliment following Sunday's game. I named the game after him!
Make no mistake, the Texans' defense won this game, with three of the four interceptions setting the Texans up with field position in Titans' territory, and two of them setting up field goals, including the aforementioned King pick that set up the final points of the game. The box score will show the Texans defense having given up 420 yards, which is not awful but not great, but if you watch the game, then you know that the Texans get a pass for two reasons — first, the score reached a point where the Texans were happy to trade yards for time elapsing off the clock, and second, the defense was on the field for nearly the entire last quarter and a half (more on that in "Losers"). Give a gold star to Lovie Smith for what he did Sunday, and what he's done all season with below average talent on defense.

1. Indianapolis Colts
Don't look now, but the Indianapolis Colts have won five of six games, sent off the launch pad in this recent streak by their Week 6 win over the Texans in Indy. On Sunday, the Colts throttled the Bills in Buffalo, by a final score of 41-15. Jonathan Taylor, the second year stud running back, had 185 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground, plus another through the air. The reason I include the Colts in this post is that, at 6-5, with one more game coming agains the Titans, the Colts got a huge favor from the Texans' knocking the Titans down to 8-3, keeping them within a reasonable shouting distance in the AFC South standings.


LOSERS

4. Jordan Akins
As the season grinds along, we are seeing sporadic examples of young players getting a chance to get some experience at the expense of older, underperforming players. The latest example came with the announcement of the inactive players on Sunday morning, when veteran tight end Jordan Akins, who's been a major disappointment in his fourth season (21 catches in nine games, zero improvement in his blocking), was rendered inactive, and rookie Brevin Jordan was given another chance to get on the field. The Texans were reportedly trying to move Akins at the trade deadline, but evidently, there were no takers, at least not at a price the Texans could agree to, so now it would appear that, barring injury to another tight end, Akins' last couple months as a Texan will be spent in street clothes on game days.

3. Haphazard Lamar Jackson comparisons
Speaking of the tight end position, one new member of that position group is former quarterback Jeff Driskel. I would be shocked if Driskel ever sees the field for the Texans at tight end, as this clearly feels like the team trying to keep a player that is in Camp Jack Easterby, but stinks at his regular job (that being "NFL quarterback"). However, tight ends coach Andy Bischoff was not going to go quietly on this topic, offering this completely hyperbolic assessment of Jeff Driskel's athletic ability:

Lamar Jackson? Uh, OK.

2. A.J. Brown
With Derrick Henry and Julio Jones both out with injuries, the making of big plays for the Titans was going to be left up to Brown, who has been one of the best receivers in football since coming into the league two seasons ago. However, Brown ran into similar issues on Sunday that his colleagues Henry and Jones had run into in previous weeks, as he was knocked out of the game early with a hand injury, returned, and then was knocked out by a clean hit from Desmond King on a tackle along the sidelines. Brown finished with five catches for 48 yards. Credit to second year WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for taking up some of the slack with seven catches for 107 yards.

1. Tim Kelly, play caller
Thankfully, David Culley did not ignore in victory what would surely be scrutinized like crazy in defeat — the head coach basically admitted that this Texans' offense is still a complete abomination. Overall, the Texans finished with a paltry 190 yards of offense, and that's bad. However, what really stood out was the stretch of football in the second half where, after taking a 19-0 lead, the Texans did not get a single first down for the final 22 minutes of the game, and in the four drives after going up 19-0, the Texans ran 12 plays, gained a total of 17 yards, and burned just 5 minutes and 10 seconds of game clock. Thankfully, the Texans went on a turnover binge for the ages in the fourth quarter, or else, we would be talking about a NINE game losing streak.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast