The Houston Texans always have been a team the Tennessee Titans want to beat.
The rivalry was a natural from the outset given the franchises’ shared history in Texas’ largest city. The Titans were founded there more than a half-century ago by Bud Adams, who maintains other business interests and his primary residence there.
Three weeks into the 2012 season, though, the Texans simply are the team to beat in the AFC. They are the conference’s last unbeaten team – one of three overall – after a year when they won a division title and a playoff game for the first time. They have one of the league’s top-ranked defenses and a balanced offense that features running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson.
“Obviously, they’re a good football team, no doubt about it,” Tennessee coach Mike Munchak said. “They’re a playoff team, they won our division last year, so they’re the team we’re all chasing in the AFC South and they’re already a couple of games ahead of us, so this is a huge game for us to kind of get back in this thing.”
And, in a manner of speaking, they’re going back home.
The Titans, tied for second in the AFC South at 1-2, have made the trip to Houston every year since 2002, when the Texans entered the NFL as an expansion franchise.
The novelty of those contests has worn off but the competitiveness has increased significantly. Tennessee won the first four and 11 of the 13 but the teams split the season series each of the last four years.
“They’re always going to be a physical team,” Foster said of the Titans. “That’s the nature of their organization. We always have to look forward to one of those types of fist fights when we … not literally, that’s terrible actually. I meant a tough game.”
Seven of the 19 all-time matchups have been decided by three points or fewer and another went to overtime. The Titans answered a 41-7 loss at LP Field last season with a 23-22 victory at Houston on the final week of the regular season in a game that was meaningless for the Texans. Even then Tennessee escaped with a victory only after Houston attempted a two-point conversion – and failed – rather than a game-tying extra point with 14 seconds to play.
The central figure in every contest, though, is Adams, the man who brought professional football to the city in 1960 and now brings in a visiting team once a season.
“He wants that [Super Bowl] trophy, that’s what he wants,” Munchak said. “For sure, when you play in your hometown, you want to win football games. Because of the history, there’s no doubt. I’m sure it means more. That’s not something he calls and tells us or worries about.
“He just wants to win. Obviously, that one I’m sure means more to him than most regular season games. In the end, he just wants to win the division.”
To do that, Tennessee is going to have to beat Houston.