HOUSTON — The Tennessee Titans let Sunday’s game with the Houston Texans slip right through their hands.
Fortunately for them, it landed right on the foot of kicker Rob Bironas, whose record-setting eighth field goal bailed the Titans out of a complete fourth-quarter collapse, lifting them to a 38-36 victory over the Texans.
“We had the game in hand, and we let it slip away … Fortunately, we had an extremely accurate place kicker today and a veteran quarterback who’s been in big games and put us in a position to win this game,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
Bironas, who made all eight of his attempts Sunday, broke the NFL record for most field goals in a game, shared by four kickers, making a 29-yarder as time expired to salvage the game for the 4-2 Titans.
“The offense kept putting us in position to kick field goals, and I am going to go out there and do my job,” Bironas said.
Bironas’ record and heroics came courtesy of veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, who performed admirably filling in for an injured Vince Young. It was Collins’ 46-yard pass to Roydell Williams on third-and-10 that put Bironas in position to make the short game-clinching kick.
“I guess I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you can’t ever get completely comfortable in a game until time runs out. You never know what’s gonna happen,” said Collins, who completed 25 of 42 passes 280 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. “It came down to guys stepping up and making plays, and Roydell did that. … That was as crazy of a game as I’ve ever seen, between turnovers and field goals. It was just a wild ride.”
It was a ride the Titans defense is certainly glad is over. Tennessee had the game all but tucked away, leading 32-7 after three quarters. But Sage Rosenfels, playing because of hip and ankle injuries that knocked Matt Schaub out of the game, rallied the Texans with 29 fourth-quarter points, including a 53-yard touchdown toss to Andre Davis that gave Houston and improbable, yet short-lived lead.
On that play, Davis was running down the seam with strong safety Chris Hope, and the two tangled up with Hope falling inside the 5-yard line. Free safety Calvin Lowry closed on Davis and the ball, but missed a chance to make the play, and Davis scored the touchdown.
“I just got tangled up with the receiver,” Hope said. “I felt like that could have been pass interference, but you can’t make excuses. That’s a play I’ve got to make. … We won the game. It was ugly at the end, but we came out on top.”
Through three quarters, the Titans had outgained the Texans 311-80 in total yards had outnumbered them 20-5 in first downs and had forced four of their six turnovers by that point. But in the final period, Rosenfels tied an NFL record with four touchdown passes and threw for 249 yards (the second most in a fourth quarter) as the Texans chipped away at a suddenly vulnerable Titans defense that had lost its edge.
“We played great for three quarters, and I think we got way too relaxed and we couldn’t turn it back on,” defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said of the fourth-quarter meltdown.
Nick Harper, who had two interceptions on Sunday, said the collapse was inexcusable despite the win.
“We pressured them the whole first half,” Harper said. “We were in man, a lot of blitzes and we got a big lead and we kind of got away from that. We started sitting back and playing a lot of zone, and they got a couple of passes on us. The quarterback was buying time. We’ve got to make those plays. We’ve got to make the pick and come down with that. There’s no way that the quarterback should just be sitting back there throwing a Hail Mary up and they catch every last one of them. That’s unacceptable.”
That drive was made possible after the Texans’ Zac Diles recovered an onside kick with 1:32 at the Houston 34. It was part of a turnaround that saw the Texans score touchdowns on four of five fourth-quarter possessions, and take the lead despite an interception and fumbling a punt in the period.
Most of the defensive players struggled for words to describe the collapse, and were happy that Bironas and the offense had rescued them on Sunday.
“We go from a team not giving up any points to giving up 32. I’m dumbfounded right now. We played great for 45 minutes,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
Indeed, the Titans were dominant from the outset, as the only Houston points through three quarters came on a first-quarter sack and forced fumble by DeMeco Ryans, who scooped up the loose ball and raced untouched for a 7-3 Texans lead.
The Titans ruled the first half, running 39 offensive plays in Texans territory with the only caveat being their settling for field goals rather than getting touchdowns.
Tennessee scored just two touchdowns in nine red zone opportunities, a problem that would have cost them dearly, had it not been for the final redeeming drive and Bironas’ record-setting day.
“It’s crazy that it came down to that, but that’s life in the NFL. I guess at this point, nothing surprises me,” Collins said.