Sean Pendergast

Houston Texans 22, Tennessee Titans 13: How To Steal A Game in Ten Plays

David Culley got his second career win, thanks to an inspired squad and some gifts from the Titans.
David Culley got his second career win, thanks to an inspired squad and some gifts from the Titans. Photo by Eric Sauseda
As many of you know, in recent years, when the Houston Texans have lost a close game that has involved many twist, turns, and poor chess moves by the head coach, I would write a feature called "How To Lose a Game in Ten Plays," a nod to one of the few romantic comedies that I've enjoyed over the last 20 years, the Matthew McConaughey-Kate Hudson classic "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days."

With their record at 2-8, you would think that the Texans had given me plenty of chances to unveil this stellar blogosphere gimmick many times. However, the problem is that almost none of the Texans' eight losses have had enough nuance to warrant that type of analysis. They just routinely get their asses kicked by four touchdowns or more.

So forgive me if I stray slightly from the spirit of the gimmick, because today, I choose to post the bizarro version of the "How to Lose" format. Instead, given the fact that the Texans were able to wrangle their second win of the season on Sunday, let's take a look at how the Titans LOST this game, and how the Texans, in some sense, stole it away.

After all, when you gain 190 yards of total offense, and your opponent gains 420 yards of total offense, and you win by nine points, some weird stuff had to happen. Here are the ten non-scoring plays that turned the tide in the Texans' favor on Sunday:

PLAY No. 1. 4th & 2 at HOU 35, 11:20 left in Q1
(No Huddle, Shotgun) PENALTY on TEN-R.Saffold, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at HOU 35 - No Play

This was the Titans' first drive of the game. They took the opening kickoff, and had marched 35 yards in six plays to get to the Texans' 43 yard line. Some sort of score (and early Titan lead) felt inevitable. Eventually, though, on 2nd and 10, the Texans got a bit of a gift here from Adrian Peterson to set up 3rd and 12:
A ten-yard pass to WR Nick Westbroook-Ikhine set up the Titans with 4th and 2 at the Texans' 35 yard line, and as they did most of the days, without hesitation, Mike Vrabel chose to go for it on fourth down. However, guard Rogerl Saffold moved before the snap, and that forced the Titans to punt from the Texans' 40 yard line. Holding the Titans scoreless on the opening drive was absolutely HUGE, and it was a Titans mistake that was the catalyst.

PLAY No. 2. 3rd & 6 at HOU 18, 0:01 left in Q1
(Shotgun) R. Tannehill pass short left intended for A. Brown INTERCEPTED by K. Grugier-Hill at HOU 12. K. Grugier-Hill to TEN 6 for 82 yards (D. Hilliard)

This Kamu Grugier-Hill-Hill interception, with the Texans already up 3-0, was the play of the first half, as it not only snuffed the second of many Titans' drives that ended in Texans' territory, but swung field position all the way to a goal-to-go situation at the other end of the field. Credit Justin Reid with a great block on Tannehill on the return, a block we'd still be talking about if KGH had gotten into the end zone.

PLAY No. 3. 4th & 1 at HOU 31, 3:10 left in Q2
A. Peterson up the middle to HOU 31 for no gain (K. Grugier-Hill, Ju. Reid)

Another huge stop on a drive that ended in Texans' territory, the Titans had 2nd and 1, 3rd and 2, and 4th and 1, and the Texans' defense held up. Absolutely huge with halftime looming.

PLAY No. 4. 1st & 5 at HOU 24, 0:09 left in Q2
(Shotgun) R. Tannehill pass incomplete short right. PENALTY on TEN-R. Tannehill, Intentional Grounding, 10 yards, enforced at HOU 24

The Titans would get the ball back and would drive down the field once again. This time, it looked like they would at least head into the locker room with some points on the board. Instead, the next of many Ryan Tannehill brain farts sent them into the locker room scoreless.

PLAY No. 5. 4th & 9 at TEN 35, 7:44 left in Q3
C.Johnston punts 30 yards to TEN 5, Center-J. Weeks. C. Rogers MUFFS catch, RECOVERED by HOU-T. Smith at TEN 5

If I were a Titans fan, this would have been the moment that I thought to myself "We are just not winning this game." If I were a Texans fan, and I am, this was the moment where I felt like we were exacting revenge for The Blaine Gabbert Game in Week 2 of 2018.

PLAY No. 6. 1st & 10 at HOU 44, 4:09 left in Q3
(No Huddle, Shotgun) R. Tannehill pass short left to A.Brown pushed ob at HOU 35 for 9 yards (D. King) [J. Johnson]

Proof that you should finish every play with physicality — this was a totally clean play by King, but it was a play whose literal impact left Brown on the shelf for the rest of the afternoon.

PLAY No. 7. 4th & 6 at HOU 24, 14:38 left in Q4
(No Huddle, Shotgun) R. Tannehill pass incomplete short right to A. Firkser (E. Murray)

This was another drive that ended in Texans' territory, and if we were to count turnovers on downs as ACTUAL turnovers on the stat sheet, this would be the first fo four of those in the fourth quarter alone. Here come the next three....

PLAY No. 8. 1st & 10 at HOU 25, 11:08 left in Q4
(No Huddle, Shotgun) R. Tannehill pass deep left intended for D. Fitzpatrick INTERCEPTED by D. King at HOU 1. D. King to HOU 1 for no gain (D. Fitzpatrick)

PLAY No. 9. 3rd & 13 at TEN 26, 3:53 left in Q4
(Shotgun) R. Tannehill pass short left intended for D. Fitzpatrick INTERCEPTED by D. King [K. Grugier-Hill] at TEN 40. D .King pushed ob at TEN 15 for 25 yards (R. Tannehill)

PLAY No. 10. 3rd & 4 at HOU 47, 2:20 left in Q4
(No Huddle, Shotgun) R. Tannehill pass deep right intended for A. Firkser INTERCEPTED by T. Mitchell at HOU 30. T. Mitchell to TEN 48 for 22 yards (D. Hilliard)

It's nice to be on the right end of one of these posts. Sunday was a good day. Now, the Texans enter an NFL week as a favorite for the first time all season, three point favorites over the Jets this Sunday at NRG Stadium.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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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