HOUSTON — The Tennessee Titans had been all about finding ways to win for most of the 2008 season.
But in Sunday’s 13-12 loss to the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium, it looked as though the Titans spent the day finding ways not to win.
There was plenty of blame to go around, and several accepting responsibility for the loss.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher accepted the blame for not taking the wind in the fourth quarter, which might have made a potential Rob Bironas field goal try in the fourth quarter an easier decision.
“I told the players, I’ll take this one. I should have taken the wind in the fourth and not the third, and that’s exactly why I decided not to let Rob kick,” Fisher said.
Quarterback Kerry Collins took the blame for the offensive struggles that included a 2-of-13 showing on third downs and no touchdowns in a game for the first time all season.
“There were opportunities there to make throws, and I didn’t make them. That’s on me,” said Collins, who finished 15 of 33 for 181 yards with one interception.
When it was over, the upstart Texans had not only handed Tennessee its second loss of the season, but had the Titans at least admitting that there needs to be some sense of urgency as they ready for the playoffs.
“If we are one of the best teams in the league, we have to come in week in and week out and show and prove it. This week we did a horrible job,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
The Titans certainly had their chances, despite being dominated by the Texans in nearly every facet of the game. Houston had receiver Andre Johnson, who caught 11 passes for 207 yards and the game’s only touchdown, not to mention 100-yard rusher Steve Slaton, who dented the Tennessee defense for the century mark for the second time in as many tries this year — the only back to gain 100 yards on the Titans all season.
In addition to that, the Titans’ offense sputtered and fluttered, managing only four Rob Bironas field goals, and disdaining a fifth one that could have given Tennessee a win with two minutes to play.
With the Titans facing fourth-and-3 from the Houston 32 with two minutes left, Bironas remained on the sideline, as Fisher eschewed the 50-yard attempt because of wind concerns. Instead, quarterback Kerry Collins missed receiver Justin McCareins on a double move, handing the ball and the game essentially over to the Texans, who improved to 7-7.
“I know he was about five yards outside his range. It was clear. He made attempts before the game, and he couldn’t get them close,” Fisher said. “We were outside the range. The wind was a factor, and the wind was clearly a factor there.”
The play was typical of the day for the Titans, so close to pulling out the win, but certainly not holding the upper hand the way a team fighting for home-field advantage would want to do against an also-ran.
“Any time you are doing that bad on third downs, it’s going to cause you some problems. That just gives the other team the ball back and keeps your offense off the field,” receiver Justin Gage said. “If you have a 2 of 13 on third down, it’s tough to win.”
The offense wasn’t alone in the struggles, as the defense allowed just 13 points, but had issues getting off the field and giving up big plays Houston won the time of possession battle, handily controlling the ball for 36:22 to just 22:38 for Tennessee. Case in point was a first-half field goal drive that went 16 plays, covered just 60 yards and drained 8:41 off the clock.
That drive tied the game at 3-3, just before Matt Schaub hit Johnson for a 65-yard gain on the Texans’ next possession, setting up the game’s lone touchdown. It came when Schaub found Johnson from 13 yards out to put the Texans up for good at 10-3.
Johnson also added a 40-yard reception in the second half and Slaton had a 34-yard run late in the game when a bending Titans defense finally broke in the last two minutes.
Tennessee chipped away at the lead and pulled within a single point twice, but could never make its way to the end zone or take the lead. Each Bironas field goal was answered with a Texans kick by Kris Brown to keep the Titans from taking the lead.
The Titans now find themselves needing to win Sunday at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers to ensure themselves of the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
A sense of urgency might be welcome, says Bulluck, who inferred that the Titans relaxed a bit after clinching a bye last week.
“Hopefully, we’ll be up to the challenge and guys will come back from vacation,” Bulluck said. “I think we were on vacation this week, knowing we got a bye and whatever other good stuff happened for us last week. I know as a team we need to get our heads out of our [expletives] and come and play football, because Pittsburgh is playing for way more than us next week. We didn’t show anything today, but I know next Sunday, we’d better come out firing.”
Tight end Alge Crumpler agreed, saying the Titans have to regain their earlier edge soon.
“Here’s what I know about playoff football. The hot team is going to win it,” Crumpler said. “I’m hoping that if we stunk it up with this game, that it’s over with, that we’ll get rolling and we’ll make some things happen so we can play well.
“Our main goals are, one, we’ve got to get healthy, and two, we’ve got to play good football. At some point, we’re going to peak, because even when we’ve won big games, we haven’t peaked. If we peak in the playoffs, it’s a damn good time to do it.”