In desperate need of a win to stay alive in the race for the AFC South division title or a wild-card playoff spot, the Titans took an early 10-point lead before the tide was turned on two plays early in the second quarter.
According to ESPN's FPI, a win would have given the Titans a 40 percent chance to make the playoffs. The 34-17 loss to the Texans reduced Tennessee's playoff chances to 13.7 percent. The Titans fell to 5-6, while the Texans won their eighth consecutive game.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel has shown he's not afraid to go for it on fourth down. Monday's game was no different. Down 14-10, Vrabel showed faith in his offensive line by going for it on fourth-and-1 at Houston's 3-yard line. However, the decision to hand it off to tight end Luke Stocker on the fullback dive did not pan out. It was Stocker's first career NFL carry, and it failed miserably as he was tackled for no gain by Texans defensive tackle Christian Covington.
"I don't remember if it was the 'B' gap or 'C' gap, but I tried to squeeze through there and the linebacker stepped up," Stocker said. "We met in the hole and I wasn't able to get the distance we needed. I have to get lower, dive for it, do something different."
Stocker said it was the first time he carried the ball in a game since high school. The play was installed several weeks ago according to multiple players and Vrabel. It was something they worked on in practice and they felt would work against the Houston front.
Tennessee had the numbers in their favor if they decided to run power to the left side, where Dennis Kelly lined up as a tackle eligible next to left tackle Taylor Lewan. Instead, the Titans tried to fool the Texans by running away from the strong side of the formation.
After turning it over on downs, the usually reliable Titans defense gave up a 97-yard touchdown run by Houston running back Lamar Miller on the very next play. Tennessee was hoping to get the defensive stop and field position after a punt. Instead, Miller demolished the eight-man front and outraced everyone breaking off the longest touchdown run of the season.
The two plays accounted for a 10-point swing and led to an avalanche of 20 unanswered points by the Texans. It also might have ended the Titans' playoff chances.
"Those helped, those would contribute to it," Vrabel said of the two plays. "When you don't score and then give up a long rushing touchdown, those are going to be things that get you beat."
Those two plays not only got the Titans beat, they might have ended their playoff chances. Tennessee will try to start climbing out of the hole it has dug for itself next week when it faces the Jets at Nissan Stadium.
"Just focus on tomorrow," said quarterback Marcus Mariota, who completed 22-of-23 for 303 yards and two touchdowns. It was the second-best completion percentage in a game in NFL history, but the accomplishment was spoiled in a losing effort. "Can't worry about anything else. Take care of your household and find ways to improve. It's really going to come down to taking it one game at a time. That's all we can do, all we can control. From there, we will see what happens ... there's no loss of confidence."