All season long the Houston Texans defense has carried them.
After a brief two-game absence, the bulls paraded once again in Nashville, producing a 24-10 victory of the Tennessee Titans that clinched a second-consecutive playoff berth for the Texans.
On a day when Matt Schaub barley threw for 200 yards and Arian Foster ran for less than 40, the Texans had trouble with the Titans, building a 24-3 lead before waltzing to their league-leading 11th victory of the season.
The 4-8 Titans saw their season continue to unravel. Thanks to a heavy rush from Houston, Jake Locker had a brutal game, throwing three interceptions and absorbing six sacks.
The Texans were unrelenting in their pursuit to bat down every pass, with J.J. Watt once again wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage. He produced a sack, a forced fumble and several batted balls, one of which found its way into the arms of Tim Dobbins for an interception.
The Houston offense opened the game with an 80-yard drive capped by a Lestar Jean touchdown reception, and then spent most of the remaining 57 minutes of game time playing keep away from the Titans.
They capitalized on two Locker turnovers and a long kick return to put up their final 17 points but contributed by staying on the field. The Texans had only two three-and-outs that didn't result in points all day.
The offense's ability to generate first downs went a long way to resting a defense that did the heavy lifting.
The Titans were determined to stay vertical and force balls to Jared Cook, but their inability to protect Locker deteriorated as injuries to the offensive line mounted throughout the game. The biggest blow was a broken leg suffered by right tackle David Stewart.
Locker continued to heave the ball down field, but all too often his efforts wound up in the arms of Texans. With two fumbles to go with his three picks, Locker didn't give his team much of a chance to win.
The contest wasn't in much doubt despite a late third-quarter touchdown that cut the Texans' lead to two scores. After a rare stand by the defense, the Titans launched their last-ditch attempt to close the gap.
Locker found Nate Washington for 49 yards to move deep into Houston territory, but the drive ultimately ended on fourth down inside the 10-yard line. Desperately needing three yards to extend the march, Locker doubled back and ultimately slipped and fumbled. Once again, Dobbins was there to scoop up the ball, securing the two-touchdown advantage.
The win guaranteed the Texans a postseason slot, but hardly represented their end game. The Texans still have a narrow lead in the race for the top overall seed in the AFC.
Their standing as the best team in the conference will face its toughest test to date with a trip to New England to play the Patriots on Monday Night Football in Week 14. A win would all but seal home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for Houston.
As for the Titans, their much anticipated move away from Chris Palmer ended in more frustration. After another flat, sloppy performance the chorus of voices calling for the end of the Mike Munchak era will only get louder.
Tennessee travels to Indianapolis to take on the resurgent Colts in Week 14. With all playoff hopes dashed, the Titans have only pride to play for, but they'll have to churn up more of it than they showed against Houston.
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