Titans hold off Texans, clinch No. 1 seed in AFC playoffs

Ben Arthur
Nashville Tennessean

HOUSTON – Get revenge? Check. 

Now, the AFC runs through Nashville. 

After falling to the Texans in one of their worst performances of the 2021 season, the Tennessee Titans returned the favor, doing just enough to stave off a furious second-half rally from Houston in their regular-season finale to win 28-25 at NRG Stadium on Sunday. 

The victory clinched the AFC’s top seed and first-round bye for the Titans, who will now have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.  

Tennessee will hold the conference’s No. 1 seed for the first time since 2008.

A few quick takeaways from Sunday’s win over Houston: 

Second-half collapse that nearly cost the game

The Titans carried a 21-0 lead at halftime and had the opportunity to put the game away with a touchdown to start the third quarter. But they sputtered offensively to start the second half. It was a three-and-out, marked by an overthrow by quarterback Ryan Tannehill to Julio Jones, who may have had a touchdown. Then another three-and-out, this time notable for a Tannehill fumble that was recovered by running back D’Onta Foreman. And another three-and-out. Three straight punts. 

And defensively, Tennessee couldn’t stop the chunk plays in the passing game. The Texans scored on a 28-yard flea-flicker. Then a 24-yarder to Nico Collins and an 11-yard scramble by quarterback Davis Mills set up a field goal. Two 30-yard pass plays set up another touchdown. Houston converted a two-point try to make it 21-18. That marked 18 unanswered points for the Texans. 

But on the Titans’ fourth drive of the second half, facing a critical third-and-5 from their own 30-yard line, Tannehill escaped a sack and completed a 36-yard heave to receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine to reach plus territory. The Titans quarterback later hit tight end Anthony Firkser for 24 yards to set up first-and-goal, and two plays later Julio Jones was on the receiving end for his first touchdown with Tennessee to put the visitors up 28-18. 

The Texans didn’t go away, though. A seven-play, 80-yard scoring march by Houston – capped by a 26-yard touchdown by Danny Amendola, who blew past Titans defensive back Chris Jackson on the outside – cut the Titans’ lead to 28-25. 

But Tennessee was able to run out the clock after a first-down run was upheld. 

Titans’ passing game electric in first half 

Tennessee’s passing attack has been inconsistent all season, but it wasn’t on Sunday – at least in the first half.  

The Titans pummeled a bad Texans defense with 298 passing yards by halftime. Jones (55 yards), A.J. Brown (52) and Westbrook-Ikhine (42) all had more than 40 receiving yards entering the third quarter. Tannehill’s three passing touchdowns in the first half tied his single-game high for 2021, which was last reached in Week 8, the last game Derrick Henry played this season. 

The Titans showed flashes of what the passing game could be in Houston. The run game is well established. And Derrick Henry is expected back for the playoffs. 

Can Tennessee put it all together for the postseason?

Up next

The Titans will await their divisional-round opponent. They'll host the lowest remaining seed out of the AFC Wild Card round, which will be played Jan. 15-17, on Jan. 22 or 23 at Nissan Stadium.