Several players already had exited the field and were on their way up the tunnel, others were still engaged in handshakes, hugs and other standard postgame pleasantries when referee Tony Corrente finally declared, “That is the end of the game.”
In a way, the whole scene was fitting.
Given that the Tennessee Titans committed six turnovers, allowed their quarterback to be sacked six times and did not score a touchdown until late in the third quarter — among other issues — Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans effectively was over well before the final seconds ticked off.
The score was 24-10, which often is indicative of a contest in doubt almost all the way to the finish, and there were times in the second half when the Titans actually could have made it exciting.
Twice in the fourth quarter they had the chance to get within one touchdown. The first ended with quarterback Jake Locker’s second lost fumble and fourth turnover of the contest. The second vanished when wide receiver Kendall Wright dropped passes on both third-and-5 and fourth-and-5 from the Texans’ 33.
“The thing was we fought hard,” coach Mike Munchak said. “That thing could have gotten really one-sided like it did when we played there, but I thought the guys hung together and put us in position twice down there where we could have gotten back in that game. … We just couldn’t finish a drive.
“There were plays to be made there. We just didn’t make them.”
The Texans (11-1), who clinched a playoff berth, had just as many opportunities to turn the game into a blowout.
That the Titans (4-8) did not allow that to happen constitutes good news for a franchise that has lost four of its last five. After all, their first four defeats, including a 38-14 loss at Houston, were by 21 points or more. Three of the last four have been by 14 or fewer.
Houston went ahead to stay when it took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards to a touchdown in six plays and made it 14-3 with another touchdown in the final minute of the opening period.
It forced the first three turnovers in the second quarter, only one of which led to points. A field goal after Locker’s first fumble made it 24-3 early in the third quarter, but the Texans managed just four first downs and punted on four straight possessions before they finally ran off the last 1:57.
“We had some tough bounces early on and I think that’s a testament to the guys in this locker room — just coming out fighting, continuing to play, trying to create good luck for ourselves,” Locker said. “I thought we were able to do that a little bit in the second half.”
Of course, some of that good feeling must be tempered by the fact that Houston’s defense was without three of its top linebackers and two members of the secondary because of injury and lost another defensive back along that way.
That unit still managed to take advantage of a Titans’ offensive line that lost right tackle David Stewart to a broken leg on the opening series and left guard Steve Hutchinson to a knee injury. The six sacks were one more than Locker, who still rushed for 38 yards, had absorbed in his six previous starts this season combined.
“It’s funny how things work in football,” Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. “You come in here missing some key defensive players and you think you have got to play really well offensively and we turn around and may have played as good a defensive game as we have played this year.
“… That just tells you you’re a team, that you don’t really care how you win or you don’t have a preconceived notion of how you are going to win. You just go out and play.”
And wait until someone says it’s over.
• Briefly: Kenny Britt scored the Titans’ only touchdown with a 34-yard reception in the second quarter. He now has scored touchdowns in consecutive games for the first time since the first two weeks of 2011. … In its first game with Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator Tennessee had 354 yards of total offense, which was 26.3 more than its average in 11 games with Chris Palmer in that role. … Houston running back Arian Foster had just 38 yards on 14 carries. He had 86 yards on 24 carries in the first meeting, which makes this the first time he did not rush for 100 or more in one of two games against the Titans in a season. … Nashville native Tim Dobbins, a linebacker with the Texans, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.