Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 6 Shootout: Titans 42, Texans 36 (OT) — Four Winners, Four Losers

J.J. Watt made a game changing play, but it wasn't enough against Tennessee.
J.J. Watt made a game changing play, but it wasn't enough against Tennessee. Photo by Eric Sauseda
The Houston Texans fell to 1-5 on the season with a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans, 42-36, and at this point, that's probably the nicest thing I can say about this cesspool of season — at least they are finding thrilling, heart-pounding ways to lose games, as opposed to the first three weeks if the season, when the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers steamrolled them in the second half of games.

Oh, don't get me wrong, the Titans steamrolled the Texans in the second half and overtime — Derrick Henry is probably STILL running right now — but the Texans appear to have found some degree of flow offensively (save every time the ball is given to David Johnson, for whatever reason). The bottom line, though, is that the Texans are 1-5 on the season, and veering dangerously close to being a "sell off" mode with the trade deadline imminent in the first week of November.

Yesterday, there were winners and losers in what was one of the more thrilling games of the season. Here we go....


4. Deshaun Watson
The Texans' post-O'Brien record fell to 1-1 on Sunday, but it wasn't for a lack of points scored by the offense. For the second consecutive game, the Texans scored 30 points or more, something that should be considered progress, even if the two defenses they did it against (Jacksonville, Tennessee) aren't exactly the '85 Bears. In Nashville on Sunday, Deshaun Watson made several great throws on "have to have it" plays, converting 7 of 14 third downs, and 3 of 3 fourth downs. He stayed away from turnovers, as well. Really, other than converting the two point conversion that would have made the score 38-29, there's not much more Watson could have done to win that game. When he left the field with 1:50 to go in regulation, the Texans were leading 36-29. He never saw the field again, except to lose the coin toss heading into overtime.

3. Miami Dolphins
The Texans' overall prospects for the remainder of 2020 probably deserve a broader, more detailed post, but needless to say, the season is trending poorly at 1-5 to start the season. My guess is ultimately the Texans are looking at 6-10 to finish the year (I think 5-5 the rest of the way sounds about right), and if that's the case, the Miami Dolphins have be thrilled that the 2021 first and second round picks they acquired for Laremy Tunsil are trending toward being in the top ten of each round in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Dolphins, at 3-3, are already proving to be a frisky team in 2020, but those extra picks from the Texans set them up nicely to begin to REALLY compete in the AFC East in future seasons, assuming rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa is the real deal.

2. Anthony Firkser
Who? Yeah, EXACTLY. When we identified the Titans' tight end position to be one of concern for the Texans, it was with the idea that the uber-athletic Jonnu Smith could be a big problem for them. I had no idea that we would look up at the end of the game and this Firkser guy would have eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. Firkser is in his third year out of Harvard, so there's a better chance he was expecting to be working for hedge fund four years ago than an NFL team. Prior to yesterday, he had seven catches ALL SEASON, and his most prolific game as a pro was 52 yards against, wait for it, THE HOUSTON TEXANS back in 2018. The Texans' linebackers and safeties are awful in coverage, there's just no two ways about it.

1. Derrick Henry
On Tuesday, he was pie facing Bills CB Josh Norman, in a stiff arm that has been made a web meme a million times over. On Sunday, Henry did the team equivalent of that heave ho to the Texans' defense, collecting 264 yards on 24 touches, including a 94 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter where he looked like he hit a sixth gear compared to the Texans' defensive backs, who happen to be half his size. Texans DC Anthony Weaver was asked about Henry's game, and he said it's basically like having someone the size of Jadeveon Clowney but with running back speed and skill. Henry is scary and is now on pace to approach 2,000 yards rushing this season.


4. David Johnson
Meanwhile, whatever you see when you watch Derrick Henry... well, envision the exact opposite, and that's what you're getting in David Johnson, if you're the Texans right now. The main piece coming back in the DeAndre Hopkins trade has become an unmitigated disaster as the team's feature running back, doing nothing that even remotely threatens a defense, and all of his carries on first down may as well be the Texans' volunteering to be in 2nd and 9. It's about time that the Texans try something different at the running back position, at least for a few series, if they insist on continuing to try to establish the run.

3. Rich Gannon and math
After scoring on a fourth and goal, on a touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks, to go up 36-29, Romeo Crennel was faced with a decision — kick the PAT and go up by eight, or convert a two point conversion and go up nine points. Romeo chose the latter (correctly, in my opinion) as a conversion would have put them up by two possessions with under two minutes to go in the game. The Texans failed to convert, and were left up seven points. The bottom line in Crennel's decision making process was the CORRECT assessment that, at that point in the game, the upside of being up by two possessions was greater than the downside of being up by only seven, instead of eight points. Well, CBS color analyst Rich Gannon was incredulous, and was essentially calling Crennel's decision buffoonery. Even when sideline reporter Jay Feely tried to explain it to him, Gannon would have none of it, and continued to point out that a PAT would put the Texans up eight, even pulling out a card on "when you go for two points," which has been essentially rendered moot in late game decisions because coaches and analytics departments have smartened up. I feel like Gannon is still standing on a corner this morning screaming how the Texans messed this up, even though, in a way, the subsequent Titans' possessions proved exactly WHY Crennel made the decision he did — he did it to take the fate of his team out of the hands of his team's porous defense.

2. Ty Sambrailo
Much like with Firkser, it's okay for you to say "WHO??" Sambrailo is a backup offensive tackle for the Titans, who was forced into duty when Taylor Lewan left the game with a third quarter leg injury. Once Lewan went out and Sambrailo came in, the Texans immediately moved J.J. Watt over to the right side of the defense, over top of Sambrailo, and this happened:
(Bonus footage of Randall Cobb's touchdown in that embedded tweet!) Poor Sambrailo not only gave up the sack, but also re-fumbled the football in the sequence of events with the ball on the ground. Sambrailo is a journeyman who may be thrust into duty now, if Lewan is out for any extended period of time. (Reports are a torn ACL for Lewan, which would end his season.)

1. Texans linebackers
Whitney Mercilus had yet another game where he was practically a ghost on the box score (no tackles, no sacks, no tackles for loss, one QB hit. The Texans are getting horrific value on the $13.5 millon per year that Mercilus makes. Meanwhile, Zach Cunningham, who got $14.5 million per year this offseason, had eight tackles, several missed tackles, and was outplayed by fellow inside linebacker Tyrell Adams, who had a sack, a TFL, two pass breakups, and a QB hit to go with HIS eight tackles. Adams makes under $1,000,000 annually. Mercilus and Cunningham are maybe the two biggest examples of contractual wreckage left behind by Bill O'Brien overpaying guys for being good citizens and enthusiastic practicers.

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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 the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast