Houston Texans end season with loss in AFC South shootout

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 03: J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans walks off the field with Deshaun Watson #4 following a game against the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 03: J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans walks off the field with Deshaun Watson #4 following a game against the Tennessee Titans at NRG Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /
J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt #99 of the Houston Texans Deshaun Watson #4 on Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

The Houston Texans had their season come to a close in Week 17.

The 2020 Houston Texans season came to a conclusion in an exciting fashion Sunday afternoon. The Texans entered the matchup with a 4-11 record, one of the league’s worst. Other than pride, the Texans did not have much to play for. The Tennessee Titans, meanwhile, had a lot riding on this contest. A victory clinched the AFC South and at least one home playoff game, while a loss would have relegated Tennessee to a Wild Card spot.

There was hope throughout the Texans community that the team would come out motivated and inspired to end the season on a high note, especially following J.J. Watt’s passionate speech at the conclusion of last week’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The team certainly did that and gave Texans’ supporters a performance they should be proud of heading into the offseason.

Unfortunately, Houston’s inspired come-from-behind efforts came up agonizingly short. They do say football is a game of inches, and that was certainly true Sunday when Sam Sloman just barely converted a 37-yard field goal as time expired to preserve a 41-38 victory for the Titans. Houston ends the season at 4-12 overall.

It is difficult to beat anyone when you get dominated at the line of scrimmage. The Titans boast one of the strongest rushing attacks in the NFL featuring Derrick Henry who is one of the most dominant runners in recent NFL memory.

Henry had another huge afternoon (34 carries, 250 yards, two TD’s) feasting on Houston’s weak defense. Offensively, the Houston Texans were down three starters on the offensive line including Laremy Tunsil. The Texans came up on stop short from a surprising victory, but the team was consistently outmatched up front against Tennessee. In the end, it was this disparity that ultimately made the decisive difference.

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After their opening series, the Houston Texans never punted again. The offense consistently moved the ball down the field, but they failed to finish drives in the first half. Houston scored three field goals in the first half, and two of them came within the red zone. Meanwhile, Tennessee found the end zone twice in the first half (including a 52-yard scamper by Henry) and added a field goal to build a 17-9 lead going into the break.

The second half is when this game totally went insane, and this turned into a thrilling shootout. For a moment, it looked as if Tennessee might win this one handily. The Titans started the second half with the ball and Derrick Henry capped off a five-minute drive with his second score of the game. While the Texans easily could have rolled over to wait for the clock to bleed out, they instead chose to fight.

Houston Texans News: Deshaun Watson was great in the 2nd half

Deshaun Watson was absolutely incredible in the second half. The Houston Texans finally found the end zone on a beautifully designed flea-flicker as Watson hit Brandin Cooks (11 receptions, 166 yards, two TD’s) for a 38-yard score. Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point, so Tennessee remained in front by two scores 24-15.

The two teams continued trading scores throughout the duration of the game. Houston’s defense came away with a couple of big stops, highlighted by Zach Cunningham’s (13 tackles, 1 FF) strip of Henry. After what looked like a potential blowout, the Houston Texans had stormed back to take a 35-31 lead early in the fourth quarter.

I really want to take a moment to fully reflect on just how encouraging this effort was. Houston easily could have laid down after getting behind, especially the defense which really struggled. But the team never stopped fighting.

This probably will not exactly be breaking news, but Houston’s defense could look entirely different next year. The unit will need new leaders to step up, and it is safe to say Cunningham has emerged as one. He kept fighting Sunday, and having a player with that sort of attitude is a great building block for the defense of the future.

Unfortunately, we still know how this one ultimately ended. Tennessee put together a 19-play drive to go back in front 38-35 late into the fourth quarter. On Houston’s ensuing possession, Watson found KeKe Coutee (6 catches, 90 yards) for a huge gain which resulted in the equalizing field goal. Then, on Tennessee’s very next play, Tannehill found A.J. Brown for a 52-yard gain which set up the game-winning kick.

In a lot of ways, this loss mirrored a lot of the other defeats the Houston Texans suffered this season.

You simply can not expect to concede 41 points and expect to win many games. Tannehill’s bomb to Brown served as a microcosm of the struggles Houston faced this season. Why was Brown in man coverage in that situation? Brown had been eating the Texans secondary up all afternoon, and he has established himself as one of the league’s premier receiving threats.

Houston Texans fans have rightfully been frustrated with the play of the cornerbacks at times this season, but it was also really unfair to Crossen that he did not have safety help on that play. Not many corners in the league would have fared well in that situation. However, interim head coach Romeo Crennel defended the decision following the game.

On the bright side, the offense was absolutely elite this afternoon. If Houston can find a few fixes on the offensive line there is no reason the offense can not be really good next year. Deshaun Watson is a special player. His presence alone can elevate an entire unit as he constantly makes everyone around him look better.

Between Watson, Tunsil, and Cunningham the Houston Texans have a couple of core players to start this rebuild with. Houston is about to embark on a couple of very important weeks as they look to hire a new general manager and head coach, and this is cause for excitement.

A chapter of Houston Texans football officially closed today, and a significant number of players that suited up for the Texans Sunday will not return next year.

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Every player in that locker room should take solace in the fact that they continued to fight in this Week 17 game. While it would have been great to carry a win into the offseason, Texans’ fans can now look forward to better days ahead. It was a long and frustrating campaign, but the healing process begins now.