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Failed 4th down turns tide in Titans’ 34-17 loss to Texans

November 27, 2018
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Houston Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) celebrates after he sacked Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON (AP) — The Tennessee Titans were down by four with the ball on the 3-yard line in the second quarter Monday night against the Houston Texans when coach Mike Vrabel chose to go for it on fourth-and-inches.

Tight end Luke Stocker took the handoff and was immediately met by Zach Cunningham and Bernardrick McKinney and stopped for no gain. Lamar Miller ran 97 yards for a touchdown on the next play to make it 21-10, and the Texans went on to a 34-17 win.

“If you look at their goal-line defense and having a lot of good knowledge of what they do on the goal line, that’s one play that had worked,” Vrabel said. “It didn’t work tonight and that’s not the reason that we lost. That’s a bad play.”

Vrabel spent a good part of his postgame news conference fielding questions about the play and why he chose to hand the ball to Stocker, an eight-year veteran who had zero carries entering the game. In fact, Stocker said after the game that the last time he remembered carrying the ball was in high school.

“I’d like to have that back and have a chance to go lower or dive or reach the ball out or something,” he said. “That’s on me. I’ve got to figure out a way to convert that.”

Some wondered why Vrabel didn’t give the ball to 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back Derrick Henry in that situation.

“That’s something we’ve repped in practice,” Vrabel said about using Stocker. “Just having watched that play be successful against their goal-line look, we felt good about it.”

The fact that Tennessee’s defense allowed the huge run by Miller seconds after the failed fourth-down attempt was just another disappointment for the Titans.

“Runs like that can’t happen,” cornerback Logan Ryan said. “They shouldn’t happen, but it did. We’ve got to learn from it.”

Marcus Mariota, who missed the second half of last week’s game with a stinger, was 22 of 23 for 303 yards and two touchdowns. He completed his first 19 passes before an incompletion with just more than a minute remaining.

Vrabel couldn’t celebrate Mariota’s effectiveness on a night when the Titans allowed the Texans to set a franchise record with 281 yards rushing, led by 162 from Miller.

“The stats are the stats,” Vrabel said when asked about Mariota’s completion percentage. “The loss is really what I’m going to try to focus on. We’ve got to stop the run. There’s a lot of things other than guys’ individual stats that we’re trying to concentrate on.”

The Titans (5-6) have lost two straight to drop into third place in the AFC South behind first-place Houston (8-3) and Indianapolis (6-5).

“We’ve got to stick together and we’ve got to go win,” Vrabel said. “We’re going to get as prepared as we can and we’ve got to go out and play. We just didn’t get it done tonight.”

The Titans jumped out to a 10-0 lead before Houston scored 27 straight points to take control. Tennessee finally scored again on a 48-yard reception by Corey Davis late in the third quarter, but a 10-yard TD by Demaryius Thomas made it 34-17 with just more than eight minutes left.

“We did a good job of coming out, but we got flat and couldn’t pick it back up,” Tennessee left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “We’ve got the guys to do it, but we’ve just got to figure out a way to stop the bleeding and get it going.”

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