Texans secure playoff spot, win with defense

The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Houston Texans continued to build on a record-breaking season by swatting away the past.

En route to clinching their second straight playoff berth, the Texans relied on defense -- not their usually stellar offense -- to roll over the city's former franchise, the Tennessee Titans, for a 24-10 victory on Sunday.

Fueled by six forced turnovers, the Texans (11-1) set a franchise record for wins in a season and won their sixth straight. For just the second time in the rivalry's 10-year history, Houston swept the regular season series against the Titans (4-8).

Despite the absence of cornerbacks Alan Bell and Johnathan Joseph and linebacker Bradie James, the Texans had their way with Titans quarterback Jake Locker, who committed five turnovers. He threw three interceptions, lost two fumbles and was sacked six times. The Texans also broke up 16 passes, including two that directly resulted in interceptions.

"It's funny how things work in football," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "I just told the team you come in here missing some key defensive players so you think you've got to really play well offensively, then we turn around and may have played maybe the best football game defensively that we have all year long. That just tells me you're a team."

Houston wasted little time on the opening drive, marching 80 yards in six plays in less than three minutes. Five of the plays were passes, including Matt Schaub's 54-yard touchdown to Lestar Jean. Titans safety Michael Griffin tried to jump the route and break up the pass but missed, allowing Jean to race down the sideline and dive into the end zone.

Tennessee answered with a 37-yard field goal by Rob Bironas. But that is as close as the Titans would get.

With 19 seconds left in the first quarter, Schaub hooked up with James Casey for a 5-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead. The score came one play after Arian Foster rushed 6 yards on a fourth-and-1.

Schaub finished with 207 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-35 passing.

The defense contributed to the Texans' next score as Shaun Cody tipped a Locker pass and Tim Dobbins secured an interception at the 3-yard line. Two plays later, Foster skated around the edge and inside the pylon for a 21-3 lead with 7:18 remaining in the half.

The Titans committed three turnovers in the first half, including two interceptions by Locker on tipped passes. The half ended with a chorus of boos from a disappointed crowd at LP Field after Glover Quin plucked a Locker pass that was deflected by both J.J. Watt and Connor Barwin.

A depleted Titans offensive line was overwhelmed. Four minutes into the game, right tackle David Stewart went out with a fractured right leg. The Titans also lost left tackle Michael Roos and left guard Steve Hutchinson to knee injuries.

"I was like, 'What else is going to go wrong here?'" Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "It doesn't matter. Teams have to deal with this on a Sunday. That's why we have 53 guys. We have to go in there and find a way. (The Texans) were depleted in the secondary. They were getting injuries, too. So they had their issues. We had ours and they found a way to make plays."

Watt made a slew of plays.

The second-year defensive end collected five tackles, three for loss, two quarterback hurries, a sack and two pass deflections. He is first player in NFL history to have 15 sacks and 15 passes defensed in the same season.

"It's off the charts. I think we're looking at as good a defensive player I've seen on the field," Kubiak said. "He continues to do it every week. He's leading the way."

Locker, who completed 21 of 45 for 309 yards, suffered from inconsistency as he ended the first quarter with seven straight incompletions. He was victimized by misfires and numerous dropped passes and even when he tried to make something happen with his feet, it backfired.

In the third quarter, he fumbled at the end of an impressive scramble for a long third-down conversion, leading to a 50-yard field goal by the Texans' Jamie Graham.

Trailing 24-3, the Titans put up a fight with Locker showing some resolve. He quickly orchestrated a five-play, 80-yard scoring drive that ended with a 34-yard heave to Kenny Britt.

But the next three possessions ended with a punt, a lost fumble, a turnover on downs and interception.

Darryl Sharpton preserved the win with 1:57 left when he snagged an interception that went off the hands of Britt.

"We just had some tough bounces early on and I think that's a testament to the guys in the locker room," Locker said. "Just coming out fighting (in the second half) and continuing to play, trying to create good luck for ourselves. ... I just had a few drives that we didn't finish, and if we do, it might be a little different press conference right now."

NOTES: Dowell Loggains made his debut as Titans offensive coordinator after Chris Palmer was fired on Monday. ... Matt Schaub connected with eight receivers, including himself. Schaub hauled in a batted pass at the line of scrimmage early in the fourth quarter, losing 6 yards on the play. ... Stewart fractured his right leg four minutes into the game after Texans linebacker Barrett Ruud rolled into him. Stewart was listed as out but is most likely done for the season. He is one of three Titans offensive linemen injured Sunday.
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