Titans clinch AFC top seed with 28-25 win over Texans

HOUSTON (AP) — After a great first half, the Tennessee Titans clung to a 3-point lead in the fourth quarter on Sunday, after allowing the Houston Texans to score an unanswered 18 points.

With the AFC’s first seed on the line, veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill knew he had to do something to rally his team.

“I said to the guys, ‘We have to make a game. We need our best right now,'” Tannehill said.

Tannehill then orchestrated an eight-play, 85-yard drive capped off with his fourth touchdown pass of the day, winning 28-25 and earning that AFC No. 1 spot for the first time in 14 years and a bye to first. tower.

“It was my mindset that we needed our best football,” said Tannehill, who tied a career high for TD assists in a game. “I needed to be awesome in that critical moment, and we were able to make those games.”

The 12-5 Titans, who won their second consecutive AFC South title last week, are the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the third time since leaving Houston in 1997 and the first since 2008 .

“These things don’t happen too often,” said safety Kevin Byard. “We have guys in the locker room who have never been seeded and have been in the league for over 10 years. We absolutely have to savor this moment and understand that it is a great moment.

Tannehill threw three touchdown passes in the second quarter to give the Titans a 21-0 halftime lead.

But the Texans (4-13) came alive in the second half to get within 3 before Julio Jones caught his first touchdown pass of the season on a 3-yard catch that made it 28- 18 with about seven minutes to play.

Tannehill’s big day — 23 of 32 for 287 yards — came after throwing a career-high four interceptions in a 22-13 loss the first time Tennessee played Houston this season on Nov. 21.

“He made huge plays,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “I thought he commanded most of the day by running things.”

In the fourth quarter, the Texans capped an eight-play, 82-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown by Danna Amendola early in the fourth quarter. Davis Mills again joined Amendola on the 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 21-18.

Houston cut the lead to 3 again when Amendola’s second touchdown reception of the game made it 28-25 with 4½ minutes left. Tennessee got a first down on third-and-second with about three minutes left and ran out of time to secure the win.

Houston coach David Culley was encouraged by how his team finished after a slow start.

“This football team has always played hard,” Culley said. “We didn’t always play smart, but we played hard. Today I think we played hard and we played smart.

Amendola had seven receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns in his first game since Nov. 28.

The Titans took a 7-0 lead when Tannehill threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Firkser with about 7½ minutes left in the second quarter. AJ Brown made it 14-0 when he caught a 14-yard pass from Tannehill with about 90 seconds left before halftime.

The Titans forced a punt and Lonnie Johnson intercepted Tannehill in the end zone on a long pass on the next drive. But Eric Murray was called for pass interference to call off the interception and move the Titans 45 yards to the Houston 4.

Tannehill’s third touchdown pass came on the following play when he connected with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for a 4-yard score to extend the lead to 21-0 at the break. It was the first time a Titan had thrown three touchdown passes in a quarter since Steve McNair did so in 2005 against the 49ers.

Vrabel praised Tannehill’s play for keeping the team on track after losing running back Derrick Henry to a broken foot on Halloween.

“His tenacity continues to show,” Vrabel said. “That’s what you have to have in this league to play quarterback.”

Houston cut the lead to 21-7 when Mills found Chris Moore on a 28-yard pass on a flea flicker with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter. And the Texans got a 31-yard field goal from Kaʻimi Fairbairn late in the third quarter to move closer to 21-10.

INJURIES

Houston DE Jonathan Greenard suffered a foot injury in the second quarter and did not return. … WR Brandin Cooks left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury.

RECRUITMENT

Mills threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns to give him 2,604 passing yards this season to pass David Carr (2,592) for most rookie yards in franchise history.

“It’s actually pretty cool,” he said. “I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I had.”

FOLLOWING

Titans: Only pass the AFC next week before opening the playoffs in two weeks.

Texans: Face an offseason in which they should finally trade quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson hasn’t played this season amid a trade demand and 22 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment or assault.

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