HOUSTON — Vince Young’s homecoming turned out to be a happy one, thanks to Rob Bironas’ 53-yard field goal with 47 seconds to play that lifted the Tennessee Titans to a 20-17 victory over the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football.
The win gives the resurgent Titans their fourth straight victory after an 0-6 start, as Young continued to re-establish himself as a big part of that turnaround.
“It’s a big win. It was on a big stage. We’re going in the right direction,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “We’re making the plays we need to make to win games, and that’s been the difference the last few weeks.”
The Titans continued to live on the edge, and had to weather a final missed field goal by the Texans’ Kris Brown from 49 yards out that would have tied the game.
But live they did, pulling out the victory in front of a national audience with Young and Chris Johnson as a two-man rushing show, leading the way.
Johnson had to the bulk of his yards the hard way Monday night, running often between the tackles, but still finishing with 151 yards on a career-high 29 carries for the Titans. He padded his NFL rushing lead with the effort, and now has 1,242 yards through 10 games and is getting closer to his 2,000 yard goal, currently on pace for 1,987 yards this season.
Young chipped in 73 more yards on 11 rushes, mostly on scrambles and especially on third downs, picking up three key first downs with his legs. He also completed 12 of 22 passes for 116 yards and found Kenny Britt from 13 yards out for the Titans’ first touchdown of the game.
And while Young was in the spotlight because of his return to where he was a high school and college standout, he was quick to deflect the credit to the entire Titans team afterwards.
“Everybody is just playing football and taking care of their assignments and executing the play that’s called. The offensive line is doing a great job of giving me time to go through my reads,” Young said. “I just want to continue to earn the respect of my teammates and my coaches. When we come together as a team we can always win ballgames.”
Guard Jake Scott, who had to pull Young away from the fray when he jawed with Texans linebacker Brian Cushing after a late hit out of bounds tacked 15 yards onto a Young scramble, said he liked seeing the fiery competitiveness Young showed.
“He’s a competitor. That’s the way he plays football. That’s a great thing. It’s fun to watch and fun to be around,” Scott said.
It’s also been a fun ride for the suddenly resurgent Titans, who have at least put themselves on the periphery of the playoff picture in the AFC wild-card chase, just two games behind three 6-4 teams with six games to play.
“It says a lot. It says that we’re able to regroup after starting out down the hole at 0-6,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “Now we’re at a point where we’re 4-6 and we get to play against teams that might have hopes to get in the postseason, as do we. It’s a long shot, but we’re going to give them our best game every week.”
The Texans quickly broke on top Monday night, going 36 yards on seven plays on their second possession. Houston scored when Matt Schaub, who would finish the night 25 of 39 for 305 yards and two touchdowns, found Steve Slaton from three yards out and a 7-0 lead.
The Titans answered, however, in the second quarter as Young engineered a nine-play, 80-yard march with Young capping the drive on a throw to Britt, who was the final option across the middle of the end zone on the play.
“I’m the last option. After the first two failed, I just read it right at the right time,” said Britt, who scored his first career TD on the play.
Young credited Chris Johnson was clearing out the play.
“Chris Johnson pulled two guys with him, and when the safety bit down, he let Kenny Britt break free and get behind him,” Young said.
The teams then traded touchdowns before the half with Andre Johnson hauling in a 12-yard pass from Schaub at the 4:01 mark, and LenDale White scoring from a yard out with 50 seconds to play after Young used the option play on a keeper, rushing 10 yards to inside the 1 to set up first-and-goal.
Tennessee appeared to be moving into position to take the lead on the opening possession of the second half, but Young fumbled at the Texans 18, killing the drive. The Titans did avoid damage, however, when Brown missed a 49-yard field goal on the ensuing drive.
Bironas then gave the Titans their first lead with a 50-yard field goal, just before Brown connected from 26 yards out to tie the game at 17-all at the end of the third quarter.
Bironas missed from 49 yards out early in the fourth quarter, but got the chance to atone when the Titans took possession from their own 6-yard line with 2:52 to play.
The drive fizzled at the Texans’ 35-yard line, but it was enough to get Bironas back in range, and he nailed the 53-yarder to give the Titans the victory.
Bironas knew he had hit it well from the moment it left his foot. “That was one of the earliest ones I put my hands up for,” he said.
It puts the Titans in position to continue an unlikely march back toward playoff contention. Such a notion is nearly inconceivable as no team that has ever started worse than 0-4 has ever made the postseason. But the Titans are simply trying to right their ship and see where the change of course takes them.
“We went around with a chip on our shoulder and we think we can beat every team we lost to in the early part of the season. We just wanted to turn it around. The coaches believe in us and we believe in ourselves,” Britt said.