December 21, 2003
Santa Brings No Cigar
by Bob Hulsey
It was all right there. A four-point lead and under a minute to go. The City of Houston was poised to give the middle finger salute back to the team that left them. Instead, Tennessee’s Steve McNair led a furious 75-yard drive capped by a fourth-down 23-yard touchdown throw to Drew Bennett which stabbed the Texans and their revenge-minded fans in the heart, 27-24.
Having failed in their first three tries to beat the team all of Houston wants most to beat, the underdog Texans saw victory dancing in their eyes when Domanick Davis dashed off the left side for a five-yard TD with 1:53 left to play. But a hobbled McNair completed four of eight passes to snatch victory with :24 left. An interception by Samari Rolle, his third turnover of the game, sealed the win shortly afterwards.
Houston had tied the game at 17-17 late in the third quarter when David Carr scrambled then hooked up with Corey Bradford for a 20-yard score. That’s how it stood until a short field goal by Morten Andersen pushed the BudBoys back into the lead at 20-17 with 6:15 left in the final stanza.
Carr and the offense had not found much success all day but caught fire with less than three minutes remaining. Derick Armstrong snared a deflected ball for 18 yards then Carr found rookie Andre Johnson on a slant route that Johnson carried for a 42-yard gain to the Titans’ 20. Johnson hauled in five passes for 108 yards on the day. Davis then scampered to the right for 15 yards before running left for the go-ahead touchdown. The Reliant Stadium crowd celebrated as if Roger Clemens had announced he was coming out of retirement.
But the crowd forgot about the man once drafted in the first round by the Houston Oilers. With cornerback Kenny Wright injured on the ensuing kickoff, McNair went to work on his replacement DeMarcus Faggins. After three completions and a spike to stop the clock, McNair tested Faggins twice more with nothing to show for it.
On fourth down, McNair chose instead to pick on veteran Marcus Coleman, who was turned around by Bennett and slipped in the end zone as Bennett hauled in the winning points.
The opening quarter was a game of dueling field positions. The stalemate wasn’t broken until 10:40 left in the second quarter when Houston’s Kris Brown nailed a field goal from 49 yards away. Completions to Armstrong, Johnson and Davis inched them into Brown’s range.
McNair’s offense was held in check until Justin McCareins sailed past Wright and hauled in a bomb for a 73-yard play that ended a foot from the goal line. McNair then flipped to tight end Erron Kinney to put the Titans up, 7-3.
After a McNair fumble was overruled, the Titans tacked on three more points with a 41-yard Andersen boot to take a 10-3 lead into halftime.
Rolle picked off Carr to begin the third quarter. The Titans drove methodically for what looked to be a two-touchdown advantage but free safety Marlon McCree stepped in front of a slant pass and outran McNair to the end zone to tie the game. The 95-yard return set a franchise record and evened the score at 10-10.
After a punt, Houston drove into Tennessee territory but LB Keith Bulluck stripped Davis and Rolle scooped up the ball, ran from sideline to sideline, evaded Carr and pranced into the end zone for the longest 61-yard return you’ll ever see. Suddenly, momentum was back with the Titans.
Carr, who was 17-of-24 for 242 yard and two picks, got his only touchdown pass on the next drive, setting up the dramatics that happened in the fourth quarter. Taking a page from New Orleans’ Joe Horn, Carr raced into the end zone after the score while Steve McKinney lifted the padding around the goal post. However, the gag fell short of reaching for the now-infamous cell phone. We’ll see if the Commissioner’s Office thought the routine was amusing or worthy of a fine.
As has been the case more often than not this year, the Texans lost more players on defense to injuries. OLB Shantee Orr was helped off with what looked like a knee injury and Wright was helped off the field with a leg injury suffered just before the dramatic final drive.
With the win, Tennessee clinched a playoff spot while the Texans fell to 5-10, tied for third in the AFC South with Jacksonville. Houston finishes the season next Sunday with a home date against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Pro Bowl voters may not know about Chad Stanley, but we do. He had a 47-yard average on seven punts and has consistently produced whatever you’d ask a punter to do. Kris Brown added a 49-yard field goal in his only attempted three-pointer.
Bend But Don’t Break Defense
Aside from the final fatal drive, the Texans’ defense did a good job of keeping the Titans from building momentum. The Titans got one touchdown by their defense and another on a 73-yard blown coverage. The oft-wounded Texan defense held up well until the bitter end.
Carr Stayed Healthy
The offensive line, when not jumping offsides or holding, kept the powerful Tennessee rush off David Carr’s backside. Carr did have to run for his life a few times but it was good to see that he had time to throw and had learned how to slide while protecting his ailing right shoulder.
A somewhat immobile Steve McNair was rarely hurried, much less sacked. A healthy McNair would have added some scrambles but the injured signal-caller still had time on most plays to sit back and look for open receivers.
Don’t let that 5.1 average fool you. Take away the 40 yards Carr gained in quarterback scrambles and you’re left with 51 yards from Davis. Subtract the 20 yards Davis gained on two runs at the end and you have a better picture of how anemic the rushing attack truly was most of the game.
Seven of them for 75 yards, including two false starts by Zach Weigert and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties which gave the Titans field position. One, on Junior Ioane, set up a Tennessee field goal just before halftime.
The winning touchdown by Bennett was obviously the most important play but what may be forgotten is an official’s call just before halftime. Leading 7-3, McNair took a snap with :43 left from his own 34. He felt pressure and drifted left when he pumped his arm. OLB Steve Foley jumped in the air, prompting McNair to bring the ball back against his body.
At this point, it appears Foley may have kicked the ball free or McNair might have just lost control of it. The ball rolled towards the Tennessee goal. Foley fell on it and fought off the scrum at the Tennessee 16. It appeared to be a fumble recovery and a certain three points to give Houston momentum going into the half.
But, after a review, it was determined that McNair was completing the "tuck" of the ball back to his body, just as was ruled when New England’s Tom Brady fumbled late in the AFC Playoffs a few years ago. The "tuck rule" gave the ball back to the Titans as an incomplete pass. With the help of a Houston penalty, Tennessee moved to the Houston 23 where Andersen kicked a field goal. The "tuck rule" resulted in a six-point swing, one that would ultimately have changed the game’s outcome. Week 15 Review Drew Bennett snags the winning TD pass over a fallen Marcus Coleman. Final Score Houston Texans 24 Tennessee Titans 27 Lookin’ Good
Probably no one was happier to see David Carr back in the huddle than the team’s top draft pick. After a horrible performance in Tampa, A.J. responded with big catches on both of Houston’s touchdown drives. He came back for a 20-yard catch that set up the scoring toss to Bradford then hokked up on a 42-yarder that set up Davis’ score.
Oh, my eyes!
It’s a little unfair since he didn’t have an awful game, but he did get flagged for holding on a punt return and was beaten for the winning touchdown. He also appeared to slip on the field a few times – something you would presume the equipment people could have fixed if he had made them aware of it.
2003 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.09 Denver 12-20 08.15 at Dallas 6-34 08.23 San Diego 17-19 08.28 at Tampa Bay 3-34 Regular Season 09.07 at Miami 21-20 09.14 at New Orleans 10-31 09.21 Kansas City 14-42 09.28 Jacksonville 24-20 10.05 Bye — 10.12 at Tennessee 17-38 10.19 New York Jets 14-19 10.26 at Indianapolis 21-30 11.02 Carolina 14-10 11.09 at Cincinnati 27-34 11.16 at Buffalo 12-10 11.23 New England 20-23 11.30 Atlanta 17-13 12.07 at Jacksonville 0-27 12.14 at Tampa Bay 3-16 12.21 Tennessee 24-27 12.28 Indianapolis 17-20 Overall Record 5-11