Welcome back to the land of 2019. The 8-8 Pittsburgh Steelers and 9-7 Los Angeles Rams would have made the playoffs under the new format. Despite narrowly missing the playoffs, both teams have come under intense scrutiny due to trading their 2020 first-round picks in exchange for a failed attempt at making the playoffs. Here, in an alternate 2019, the Steelers and Rams make the playoffs. Here are the aftereffects of Pittsburgh’s first-round upset
With the Chiefs and Patriots losing in the first round of the playoffs, the Texans get to host a second consecutive playoff game. Their opponent is the plucky Titans who have won eight of 11 games under quarterback Ryan Tannehill. One of those eight wins was in Houston, but Houston rested their starters across the board. The road team won both of the regular season matchups, but both teams were without their best player in their losses.
Here is the rubber match.
Note: In real life, Titans tight end Delanie Walker was injured and had not played since October. Injured players could play a role in future simulations, but both teams would have fully healthy rosters.
Deshaun Watson and the Texans began with the ball. The first drive was dominated by Houston’s third-down efficiency. After working into a third-and-eight, Watson found Keke Coutee for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, Carlos Hyde ran for four yards on a third-and-four. After a first down, the Texans had a third-and-10 on Tennessee’s 13. Watson found Will Fuller slicing into the end zone for the touchdown. The Texans lead, 7-0.
After dropping back to pass, Tannehill found a slit in the defense and gained five yards. Derrick Henry gained a first down on the next play with a six-yard run. An eight-yard play to A.J. Brown was followed by another Henry first-down run, pushing Tennessee into Houston territory. Dion Lewis gained seven yards on first down, and Henry plowed through for a pair of seven-yard runs. Tannehill hit Lewis out of the backfield to extend the drive with a first down. A Dalyn Dawkins handoff went wrong, but Tannehill found Jonnu Smith for a 14-yard gain on the second-and-14. From Houston’s five, Tannehill lofted a ball to Delanie Walker who caught it and scored. The game is tied, 7-7.
DeAndre Hopkins made his presence known with a 12-yard catch and run to open the next drive. Hyde gained a pair before Watson was tackled for a loss of one to end the first quarter.
Beginning the second quarter, Watson hit Kenny Stills for a huge 19-yards on third down. Stills gained three yards on first down before Duke Johnson lost third on the ensuing play. On another third down, Watson stayed perfect with a 14-yard dart to Hopkins. Hyde gains a yard on first down, and a Hopkins reverse puts the Texans into a third-and-short. Watson once again converts with a 14-yard scramble. Watson hit Jordan Akins for 14 more yards, settling inside the Tennessee two-yard-line. Hyde gained one on first down, but a penalty on second down forced the Texans back to the six. A Hyde two-yard run and an incompletion spelled the end of the drive. Ka’imi Fairbairn connected on the 21-yard field goal. The Texans lead, 10-7.
With eight minutes to go in the half, the Titans began to mount a drive. A nine-yard run from Henry put the Titans on the front foot as they continued to chew up yards with a seven-yard run from Lewis, a six-yard pass to Henry, and a 15-yard pass to Walker. Henry gained just a yard on his next two carries, but Brown bailed Tennessee out with a nine-yard conversion. Henry’s gain of four on the next play was washed away with a J.J. Watt sack, losing six yards. On third-and-12, Tannehill found Adam Humphries for a 12-yard gain and a first down. Now under two minutes to go, Lewis and Henry exchanged two-yard runs, both being forced out of bounds. A third-down run by Dawkins set up a 27-yard field goal. Cody Parkey missed the field goal wide left.
An encroachment penalty gave the Texans a first-and-five, but successive minimal plays and a Rashaan Evans sack gave the ball back to Tennessee with 30 seconds left.
Tannehill hit Tajae Sharpe and Corey Davis for 11 yards and 19 yards, respectively, chewing up 30 yards in just 12 seconds as both receivers slipped out of bounds. A Charles Omenihu sack likely pushed the Titans out of field goal range, and Tannehill’s deep pass at the end of the half fell to the turf from the Houston 37.
At the half, the Texans lead, 10-7.
Henry opened the second half with a one-yard gain. Tannehill missed Davis on second down, but Sharpe made a huge play on third down to extend the drive. Tannehill then found Bradley Roby, a Houston cornerback.
Set up in Tennessee territory, Hopkins started the drive with a 10-yard gain. Watson missed Hopkins on first down. On second down, Taiwan Jones gained a pair of yards. On third down, Watson overthrew Coutee, necessitating Fairbairn’s 47-yard field goal. The Texans lead, 13-7.
After a loss of two on first down, Tannehill completed a pass to Humphries for a gain of 10. On the ensuing third-and-two, Houston penetrated the Tennessee offensive line and stuffed Henry for a loss of two. Brett Kern shanked the punt out of bounds for a net of just 27 yards.
Set with solid field position, a Johnson run and Hopkins catch resulted in a first down. A Hyde loss of one followed by a Watson incompletion seemingly halted the drive. On third-and-16 (after a false start), DeAndre Carter found a gap between zones, gaining 25 yards. Two plays later, Tennessee yanked the ball out of Hyde’s hands, ending the drive.
The Tennessee passing offense covered 29 yards in two plays with a screen to Humphries for 18 and an intermediate completion to Smith for 11. Henry gained three yards on two carries, but Davis got open to extend the drive. After a Humphries drop, Tannehill slipped out of the pocket for an 18-yard scramble. On the next play, Whitney Mercilus sacked Tannehill for a loss of seven. Henry gained a yard on his next carry, setting up a third-and-16 to open the fourth quarter.
Tannehill missed Davis in the end zone, bringing out Parkey. Parkey overcompensated for his first miss, missing his second field goal wide right.
Watson hit Hopkins for back-to-back 13-yard gains. After a pair of short runs, Watson found Stills for a 19-yard first down. A Buddy Howell carry got back to the line of scrimmage but Hopkins dropped the second-down pass. On third down, Watson missed an open Coutee. Fairbairn connected on a 42-yard field goal. The Texans lead, 16-7.
With 10 minutes to go, the Titans need a spark. Henry provides the spark with a 13-yard gain through the air and two carries for 15 yards before a Davis 15-yard catch put the Titans on the Houston 31. Henry gained six yards on two plays, but Dawkins was stuffed at the line. Coming on for his third field goal, Parkey once again missed.
A bomb from Watson to Coutee fell incomplete, but Watson then flipped the field with a 21-yard pass to Fuller who was subsequently flattened by a vicious Kevin Byard hit. The hit changed the momentum of the drive, and the Texans punted after three minimal gains.
With three minutes to go, the Titans had nothing to lose. Tannehill missed Brown in full stride on first down. Henry got the edge with a long run, but a holding penalty negated the run and pushed the Titans back to their four. Looking for the big play, Tannehill overthrew Lewis and Brown on second and third down. On fourth down, Tennessee made the excruciating but necessary decision to go for the first down on a fourth-and-14 from their own four. J.J. Watt became J.J. Swatt and ended the drive.
Jones found the end zone on the first play of the next drive. The Texans left the door open, opting to take the extra point and go up 16 rather than try to go up 17.
Henry gained four yards on two runs before Marcus Mariota trotted onto the field. The trickery of the Tennessee offense fooled the Texans as Mariota found Brown streaking open for a 67-yard touchdown. On the ensuing two-point conversion, a Mariota option run was stopped inches from the goal line.
The Titans failed to recover the onside kick, leaving 1:53 on the clock and two timeouts. They successfully stuffed Houston on three straight runs, and Fairbairn missed a 45-yard field goal.
Down 10, Tannehill tried to force passes to his receivers, but all three found the hands of Houston’s defensive line. On fourth down, Roby came through unblocked to sack Tannehill.
One Watson kneel-down ended the game.
The Texans win, 23-13.
The star of the game with J.J. Watt with his sack and several pass deflections on the defensive line. He also held Henry in check as the running back averaged 3.4 yards per carry.
The Texans advance to play the Ravens in Baltimore. Stay tuned for Part V.