HOUSTON, Texas – Quarterback Marcus Mariota was nearly perfect on Monday night.
Unfortunately, the Titans were not.
And because of it, the Titans lost to the Texans 34-17 here at NRG Stadium. The Titans (5-6) are now three games behind the Texans (8-3) in the AFC South with five games left.
“When it comes down to it, we haven’t played complementary football,” Mariota said. “We haven’t done a good enough job across the board.
Mariota started the game completing his first 19 passes, and he was 19-of-19 for 271 yards and two touchdowns at one point before throwing his first incompletion late in the game. Mariota finished the game 22-of-23 for 303 yards with a 147.7 passer rating.
But Mariota was also sacked six times, and the Titans sputtered on offense after a fast start. On defense, the Titans gave up too many big plays, both in the running game and passing game.
It all added up to another frustration night.
“We all have to evaluate ourselves and look in the mirror,” Titans receiver Corey Davis said. “We have a long way to go, including myself, and we need to get back to the drawing board. We have to stay in it, and stay poised. That's really what it comes down to.”
The Titans jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead over the Texans, but things changed quickly.
The Titans took a 3-0 lead on their first possession on a 31-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop. On their next series, Mariota connected with tight end Jonnu Smith for a 61-yard touchdown. On the play, Smith caught a short pass in the middle of the field, and then outraced everyone to the end zone to make it 10-0.
“We were rolling high, and that’s a good feeling to have,” Smith said. “We just didn’t finish it out. You have to keep your foot on the pedal.”
The Texans answered back with 27 straight points, starting with quarterback Deshaun Watson’s 12-yard touchdown pass to receiver Demaryius Thomas, which made it 10-7. At the start of the second quarter, the Texans surged ahead 14-10 on a 15-yard touchdown run by Watson.
The Titans were on the verge of reclaiming the lead, inside the Houston five early in the second quarter. But tight end Luke Stocker, lined up in the backfield as a fullback, was stuffed for no gain on a 4th and 1 at the three-yard line.
“I saw a crease and I tried to hit it and the linebacker came over the top and I wasn’t able to get the distance I needed to convert, and that’s on me,” Stocker said. “Looking back, it was definitely a point in the game when the game changed. … I wish I could get it back and had another chance to dive, reach the ball out, something. It’s unfortunate.”
On the next play, the Texans jumped out to a 21-10 lead on a 97-yard touchdown run by running back Lamar Miller, who finished the game with 162 yards on just 12 carries.
“Personally, I put that on myself,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said of Miller's long run. “As long as I am safety here for the Titans, I feel like a play like that should never happen. We didn’t stop the run.”
The Texans made it 24-10 at the half on a 43-yard field goal by kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn. Another Fairbairn kick, this one from 47 yards, made it 27-10 with 8:53 left in the third quarter.
The Titans cut the lead to 27-17 on a 48-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to Davis. It was Mariota’s 16th completion in a row to start the game.
The Titans couldn’t get a stop when they needed it after that, and the Texans surged back ahead 34-17 on another Watson-to-Thomas touchdown pass with 8:15 left.
Mariota's streak of 19 completions broke a “Titans era” record, which he set against the Eagles when he completed 15 straight.
“I can do a better job, though,” Mariota said after the game. “I didn’t help our guys up front – I was holding the ball too long. I got us in negative situations, taking some of these sacks. I’ll look back at the film and get better from it, and improve.”
The Titans face the Jets on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
“We’re 5 and 6, and we are coming back home,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “There’s some good things out there, and there’s things that have to improve. It starts with me, and the coaching staff, and we have to make sure our guys are ready to go play. We’ll come back and we’ll prepare and we’ll try and go win a football game.”
The Tennessee Titans take on the Houston Texans in Week 12 of the 2018 season on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 at NRG Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
The Tennessee Titans get set to take on the Houston Texans in Week 12 of the 2018 season on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 at NRG Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP, Talha Khawaja, Jorge Luna)