With a rookie quarterback making his first career start, running back Chris Johnson had the worst rushing day of his career.
That was a dreadful combination for the Tennessee Titans, whose losing streak was extended to four games with a 20-0 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday at Houston.
Second-year cornerback Glover Quin sealed the second shutout in the history of the Houston franchise when intercepted a pass in the end zone with 55 seconds to play. Rusty Smith’s pass went off the hands of tight end Jared Cook and resulted in the third interception of the day — all by Quin.
“Anytime you start a rookie, in his first start, first game, you talk all week about the importance of everyone picking their game up," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We have to get the little things right. We have to help him. We have to get the little catches and those kinds of things. ... Obviously we didn’t play well enough to win the game. We had a couple balls we’d like to have back. Everybody has to help."
With Smith playing in place of injured veterans Kerry Collins and Vince Young, Tennessee managed just 162 yards of total offense and nine first downs and did not run a play on Houston’s side of the field until early in the fourth quarter. The offense had the ball for a mere 20:19, barely more than half of Houston’s time of possession.
Johnson, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2009, was limited to five yards on seven carries. His longest gain was for nine yards late in the third quarter, His previous low was eight yards on 14 attempts on Nov. 9, 2008, at Chicago.
Javon Ringer was the Titans’ leading rusher with 27 yards on four rushes.
Conversely, former University of Tennessee running back Arian Foster, this season’s leading rusher, racked up 143 yards on 30 attempts for Houston. He also caught nine passes for a team-high 75 yards.
"We could have ran the ball on them but we didn’t run it," Johnson said. "... We just didn’t make plays.”
Smith finished the day 17-for-31 passing for 138 yards with three interceptions. Cook and Justin Gage each had four receptions, and Randy Moss had three, his most in three games with Tennessee.
The Titans finally crossed midfield on a 14-yard punt return by Marc Mariani, which ended with a 15-yard penalty for a late hit that made it first-and-10 at the Texans’ 36.
Tennessee drove inside the 10 with the help of a pass interference penalty, but on second-and-7 from the 9, Smith threw his second interception.
"Honestly, I wish I could have some of those throws back, but you can’t get them back," Smith said. "I thought I made some good decisions, some good throws, some bad decisions and some bad throws.”
Things got ugly with 7:53 to play when Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan and Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson got in an altercation, which included both players having their helmets ripped off and punches thrown. That sparked a scrum that included numerous players from both sides.
Personal fouls were assessed to Finnegan and Johnson, and both were ejected from the contest. Finnegan finished with four tackles. Johnson had nine receptions for 56 yards and the Texans’ second touchdown.
"It was just a build up over plays and I just lost my cool," Johnson said. "I think that he was frustrated with what was going on during the game. He kept doing little things, and I told him, ‘Just because you’re frustrated, you need to stop what you’re doing.’
"And I guess he thought it was funny.”