Before Saturday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, Houston coach Lovie Smith said he believes quarterback Christian Harris, with nine games of NFL experience, can help the Texans avoid their usual fate of being underfoot by running back Derrick Henry.
As it turned out, the rookie from Alabama had a big game in the passing game, helping Houston snap a nine-game losing streak with a 19-14 victory over Tennessee.
With the Texans leading by five points, Harris took a pass from Tennessee quarterback Malik Willis to wide receiver Traylon Burks and returned it 20 yards to the Tennessee 38-yard line with 1:33 to play.
“I just tried to sub and make a play” Harris said“and that was really all.”
The Titans got the football back with 70 seconds left, and the game ended with an interception by another Houston rookie, safety Jalen Peatre, that set up a Texans 43 in the end zone.
Henry entered the game as the only player in NFL history with at least 200 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in four straight games against one opponent, the Texans.
Saturday seemed like more of the same. on his fourth carry, the former Alabama All-American ran 48 yards for the game’s first points with 8:48 left in the first quarter. Henry had 70 rushing yards at that point in the game.
“Derrick Henry is the best running back in football” Smith said. “I mean, this guy is as good as it gets. He’s tough, and a lot of those misses will go down the regular back. But the guys kept fighting and when we needed to press and play the run a lot better, the fight was better, the team fight. It takes more than one to bring him down.”
Henry finished with 126 yards on 23 rushing attempts. But he didn’t cross the goal line again, and the Texans limited him to less than 3 yards on one carry after this touchdown run.
“It was just staying more open-sounding, really.” Harris said. “… The second half we attacked a lot better than the first, and that was kind of the plan. …
“It meant a lot to me and the defense, but really we were just trying to come out here and do our job and we did.”
With 13:44 left in the game and Tennessee leading 14-10, Henry fumbled on a 1st-and-10 drive from Houston’s 44-yard line.
“Trying to break the problem” Henry said. “Trying to fight for extra yards. You have to take care of the ball. We are doing it. That’s on me. No excuses. The organization puts a lot on me to carry the ball and I put a lot on my shoulders to do what I can for this team and make plays. That’s three games in a row, I hit the ball. No excuses, I have to take better care of the ball. That’s what you have to do as an escape, and these last three weeks I haven’t. I had to get better. I have to get back to work. I feel terrible about it. I’m going to feel awful until we play again.”
Henry’s fumble was forced and recovered by linebacker Jake Hansen, as were Harris and Pitre as rookies.
“We’re definitely making progress week by week.” Harris said Of Houston’s young players. “We’re seeing that, and it’s just kind of the main focus. We’re not thinking too far ahead. What is in front of you now, take care of it. You can see the progress.”
Harris also had six tackles in the game, and in addition to the interception, he broke up another pass.
While the Texans ended their losing streak to move to 2-12-1, Tennessee suffered its fifth straight loss to fall to 7-8, now tied for first place in the AFC South with Jacksonville but behind the Jaguars for first place. head tiebreaker. On December 11, the Titans lost to Jacksonville 36-22, and on January 8, they will play the Jaguars again in the regular season finale.
Before that, Tennessee will meet the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday evening.
“Five in a row, very tough” Henry said. “You’re trying to find words to say, but I think you have to be positive at the same time. We still have a chance in front of us. We have a short week. We got to play Dallas. We must have short memories. But for me it definitely stings because I feel like we were in a position to go down and score and I didn’t take care of the ball.”
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Mark Inabinet is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1:.