HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Johnson had his best game of the season on Sunday.
It wasn’t nearly enough for the Tennessee Titans to overcome a three-turnover performance by backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in a 38-14 loss to the Houston Texans.
Johnson entered the game having gained just 45 yards in the first three games combined, but had 25 carries for 141 yards on Sunday for his first 100-yard outing since last December.
Hasselbeck came in for Jake Locker in the first quarter after the starter’s left shoulder was injured while he was sacked.
“I felt like my offensive line went out there and did a great job from the first snap, just getting up on guys, pushing those guys back, and just giving me somewhere to run,” said Johnson, who ran for a career-high 2,006 yards in 2009. “Like I’ve been saying all year, I’m going to be as good as my offensive line. They had a great game today, and I feel like that’s why the running game did well.”
Locker was injured on Tennessee’s second drive when Glover Quin came through unblocked to sack him and throw him to the ground. Locker injured the same shoulder in Tennessee’s season-opener against New England. He said he was sore after the game and that he would have an MRI exam on Monday to determine the extent of the injury.
Danieal Manning and Kareem Jackson returned interceptions for touchdowns, and Matt Schaub threw two TD passes to help the Texans to the win.
“There’s no doubt we helped them,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “They returned two interceptions for touchdowns. Obviously, you can’t do those things against good football teams, and we did it. We made it a lot harder than it needed to be in this game.”
Arian Foster also had a touchdown run for the Texans (4-0). Even though they were outgained 325-297 by the Titans (1-3), the Texans’ defense came through with big plays in the third quarter to clinch the win.
Houston went to work quickly with an 11-yard touchdown reception by James Casey to make it 7-0 in the first quarter.
The Texans challenged the spot on a third-and-1 play on their next series, giving them a first down at the Tennessee 11. Foster took it in from four yards out two plays later to push Houston’s lead to 14-0 near the end of the first quarter.
The Titans used a good dose of Johnson on a drive that ended with a 19-yard touchdown reception by Craig Stevens to cut Houston’s lead to 14-7 in the second quarter.
Johnson said he was very concerned about Tennessee’s running game through the first three weeks of the season. But on Sunday he knew from the outset that things were going to be different. He said it helped that he got a good number of carries before halftime after having just 33 carries combined through three disappointing games.
“When you’re playing running back, you can feel when you’re in your groove,” he said. “I just felt like I was in my groove early, and that’s when I knew.”
But he isn’t ready to proclaim Tennessee’s problems in the running game fixed.
“I think today helped us take a step,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we ultimately solved the problem, but I feel like we took a good step, and hopefully we continue to get better.”
Houston’s offense got off to a slow start in the second half, but the defense picked up the slack. Manning intercepted a pass that was tipped by tight end Taylor Thompson, and Manning made a zigzagging 55-yard return for the touchdown to make it 21-7 in the third quarter.
The Titans were disappointed they were within striking distance in the second half, only to watch things get out of hand so quickly.
“Probably the story of the game would be turnovers and their defense scoring points, and the penalties that cost us not only momentum, but big yards,” Hasselbeck said. “It’s frustrating because I feel like we’re not that far away. But we didn’t play great and we had turnovers and I was a part of three of them. It’s just frustrating because I know we’re capable of a lot more. They were just clearly a lot better than us today.”
The Titans were penalized seven times for 73 yards, and Houston had just one penalty for three yards.
Hasselbeck fumbled when he was hit by Antonio Smith in the fourth quarter, and J.J. Watt recovered at the Tennessee 24. Shayne Graham kicked a 33-yard field goal with 5:38 left.
Jackson intercepted Hasselbeck in the fourth quarter and had a 63-yard return for a touchdown to push the lead to 38-7. He did his best impression of Deion Sanders at the end, high-stepping the last 10 yards.
Hasselbeck threw a short TD pass to Kendall Wright in the final minute.
NOTES: Watt has 7 sacks this season. … The Texans topped 30 points for the third time in four games. … Graham reached 1,000 career points. … Texans RG Antoine Caldwell left in the second quarter with a sprained right ankle. … Titans LB Patrick Bailey, a special-teams player, injured his left hand and stayed in the game. Munchak said he would be re-evaluated on Monday. … Johnson earned his 29th career 100-yard game.