Gary Kubiak can tell his Houston Texans are maturing both as a franchise and as a championship contender with a simple glance around his locker room.
This time, they acted like they’ve been in the playoffs before.
Yes, the Texans are excited by clinching a second straight postseason berth and setting a franchise record for wins in a season by beating the Tennessee Titans 24-10 on Sunday.
”We’re very happy, I can tell you that,” Kubiak said. ”But I think they expected to get there, and they got there today. There’s a lot more to work on. We’ve got to continue to push our group.”
Rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus recovered a fumble and had two sacks as the Texans (11-1) remain tied with Atlanta for the best record in the NFL with their sixth straight win. After needing overtime the past two games, the Texans forced six turnovers they turned into 10 points and had six sacks of Jake Locker when the Texans weren’t batting down a handful of other passes.
Houston is 6-0 on the road this season, the only unbeaten team away from home.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, injured when Houston clinched its first postseason berth a year ago against Cincinnati, called this a great feeling.
”It’s good to know we’re in,” Schaub said. ”It’s a great feeling to know that we’ve reached that goal, but we’ve got a lot more to accomplish.”
The Texans also swept Tennessee (4-8), the team they replaced in Houston, for only the second time. Schaub threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns, and Arian Foster ran for a TD.
The Titans debuted new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, but they didn’t help him much as receivers repeatedly dropped balls in losing their second straight.
”To work so hard to turn things around and go out and have a performance like that is very frustrating,” Titans running back Chris Johnson said.
Tennessee scored on a 34-yard pass from Locker to Kenny Britt late in the third quarter to pull within 24-10. The Titans had plenty of chances, including third-and-3 at the Houston 7 early in the fourth quarter before Locker was sacked and fumbled on fourth down.
Darryl Sharpton sealed the win with the third interception with 2:05 left. Locker finished with two fumbles and three interceptions.
”I guess that’s why we’re 4-8,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. ”We can’t make enough plays to win when we have an opportunity.”
The Texans avoided all the late-game dramatics needed in beating first Jacksonville, then Detroit in overtime in a span of five days. But their injury list grew.
Linebackers Bradie James and Brooks Reed, cornerback Johnathan Joseph and right tackle Derek Newton all sat out. Cornerback Brice McCain hurt his foot and couldn’t finish. Tight end Garrett Graham also suffered a head injury and couldn’t finish.
Houston improved on last season’s 10 wins with Schaub completing four of his first five passes for 78 yards on the opening drive. Schaub also connected with James Casey on a 5-yard pass for a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. By halftime, Schaub was 15 of 24 for 167 yards with a 110.9 passer rating, and he finished 21 of 35, completing passes to eight teammates, including himself off a batted ball he pulled in for a 6-yard loss.
”Our defense really won the game for us,” Schaub said. ”They created all those turnovers and stops on fourth down. The game ball goes to the defense because we weren’t holding up our end on offense.”
Shaun Cody tipped Locker’s pass to Houston linebacker Tim Dobbins, a Nashville native, who ran it 7 yards to the Tennessee 3 before Locker knocked him up into the air. Arian Foster scored on a 2-yard TD run two plays later for a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter. Shayne Graham added a 50-yard field goal in the third quarter after Mercilus recovered Locker’s fumble forced by Antonio Smith.
That was all Houston needed with the defense disrupting Tennessee repeatedly, even though the Titans wound up with a 354-332 edge in total offense with two offensive linemen knocked out of the game with injuries.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt had another sack, giving him 15 1-2, adding to his franchise record for a season and joining Reggie White as the only NFL players with at least 15 sacks and 13 passes defensed in a season. Watt batted down a couple of passes, giving him 15 for the season.
”Obviously, we’ve had some struggles the last two weeks, but today is what we’re used to and the way we’re used to playing with the turnovers and the momentum swings,” Watt said.
Smith had a sack and recovered a fumble by Johnson he ran to the end zone waving the ball in the air, thinking and hoping he had a TD in the second quarter.
But officials had whistled the play dead at the spot of the turnover.
Notes: Andre Johnson, the AFC offensive player for November, had five catches for 56 yards after totaling 35 catches for 614 yards over the past month. … Foster’s streak of rushing for at least 90 yards a game ended at five. He ran for 38 yards on 14 carries. … Titans RT David Stewart broke his right leg on the opening series and was taken to a hospital, and LG Steve Hutchinson hurt his right knee.