As poorly as the Tennessee Titans’ season has gone, the Houston Texans appear to have surpassed their AFC South rivals’ misery in just this past week.
Losing star running back Arian Foster for the season, cutting a backup quarterback for missing a flight and a dreadful first-half performance were among the lowlights.
The Texans will try to rebound quickly and generate some positivity by adding to their recent success against the Titans on Sunday.
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Tennessee (1-5) took its fifth consecutive loss and 15th in its last 16 games with a 10-7 defeat to Atlanta this past weekend. While the Titans were competitive, it took only a few minutes for Houston to seal its 44-26 loss in Miami.
The Texans (2-5) trailed 21-0 after one quarter and 41-0 at halftime. Even worse, they lost Foster to a torn right Achilles on their final drive.
"It’s devastating," tackle Duane Brown said. "Just because I know how much he puts into this thing, how much work he puts in to be great, to be healthy, and to stay on the field. I know how hard he worked to come back from his groin injury. To have this happen, I’m really hurting for him. I know it’s pretty frustrating."
Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett was forced to take a commercial flight to Miami after missing the team’s charter and was released Tuesday. Coach Bill O’Brien reportedly had a confrontation with general manager Rick Smith because he wanted Mallett cut Saturday but denied there was a rift Wednesday.
"Rick Smith and I both have respect for each other. We work together every day. We communicate every day. It’s a partnership," he said.
T.J. Yates, who played in Houston for three seasons, was signed as Mallett’s replacement. Yates was cut by Atlanta before the start of this season.
"We’re moving on. We’re on Tennessee, looking forward to a good week, and going out there against a divisional opponent in our home stadium," defensive end J.J. Watt said.
Watt sat out practice early in this week with a "minor back issue" but said he expects to play. Linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has been fighting a sickness but might be on the field as well.
If they are available, they’ll be chasing Zach Mettenberger instead of Marcus Mariota, who will miss his second straight game because of a sprained left knee ligament. He returned to limited participation in practice this week but coach Ken Whisenhunt said he isn’t ready yet.
”He made a lot of progress this week,” Whisenhunt said. ”I think he’s close, but we’re not going to play him this week. I think that’s the best decision for him, and that’s what we’re going to go with.
”I think physically he’s probably right on the line of being ready to go. But it’s a tough enough position to play without getting the bulk of the reps, and that was part of it.”
Mettenberger went 22 of 35 for 187 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in his place as the Titans suffered their third loss by three or fewer points. Mettenberger, 0-7 as a starter in his career, was also the starter in Tennessee’s two losses to Houston last season, including a 45-21 road defeat Nov. 30.
”You play the game to win,” Mettenberger said. ”Losing is not fun. It’s definitely not what I work for, and I’m just going to keep grinding until I can turn it around and get a win.”
The NFL’s leading receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, had a career-high 238 yards and two touchdowns in that victory. Hopkins has 58 catches for 776 yards and five TDs but was held to a season-low 50 yards in the loss to Miami.
The Texans have won five of the past six meetings and three straight on their own field. They won 30-16 at Tennessee on Oct. 26, but with Foster running for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Houston will likely start Alfred Blue again in place of Foster. He started the first three games this season with Foster sidelined due to a groin injury.
Blue had 48 yards on 14 carries in the first two contests then ran for 139 on 31 attempts and a touchdown in a 19-9 win against Tampa Bay on Sept. 27.
He’ll face one of the league’s worst run defenses (129.2 yards allowed per game), but Tennessee has fared well on that side of the ball overall this season. The Titans are fifth in total defense (324.3 ypg) and second against the pass (195.2).
They’re near the middle of the pack, however, with 23.2 points yielded per contest. Tennessee’s offense is one of the worst in the league with 19.8 points and 326.3 yards per game.
The Texans’ defense is also in the bottom half with their averages of 28.4 points and 370.9 yards allowed.
Houston wide receiver Nate Washington will face his former team for the first time. Washington, who played six seasons for the Titans, is in the top 10 in franchise history with 307 catches and 4,591 yards.
He had career highs of 74 receptions and 1,023 yards in 2011.