Titans' victory not enough to make playoffs
HOUSTON—The Tennessee Titans' regular-season finale came down to a 2-point conversion. Their playoff hopes officially ended a few hours later.
Matt Hasselbeck threw two touchdown passes, and Tennessee staved off Houston's last-minute rally in a 23-22 victory Sunday.
Tennessee (9-7) earned its first winning record since 2008 in Mike Munchak's first season, but its postseason fate depended on the outcome of later games in Cincinnati, Oakland and Denver.
When the Broncos lost to Kansas City, the Titans were knocked out of playoff contention.
"I was proud of the guys for bouncing back the last two weeks and putting ourselves in the position to reach the playoffs," Munchak said in a statement, "but we also put ourselves in the position of needing help and it didn't work out for us today."
The Titans got some early help when the New York Jets lost in Miami, but then had to sweat out the final two minutes when Ahmard Hall fumbled, and Jake Delhomme drove Houston for a touchdown with 14 seconds left.
"We knew that was the situation we were in and we could only do what we could do," Hasselbeck said. "We were focused on taking care of business and handling the things that we could control. Finishing 9-7 is something we can be proud about whether we get the help or we don't."
The Texans (10-6) were locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs before the game began. They will play Cincinnati (9-7) next Saturday in the franchise's first postseason game. Houston beat the Bengals 20-19 on Dec. 11.
With their position secured and nothing to lose but more players to injury, coach Gary Kubiak called for a 2-point conversion to avoid overtime and win the game in regulation.
"You would never go for 2 there in any other situation," Kubiak said. "But where we were physically, at the end of the game, I had a tight end (Garrett Graham) playing linebacker. Our team, I had to get them to next week."
But tight end Joel Dreessen was flagged for illegal motion, and then backup center Thomas Austin flipped the snap over Delhomme's head and the game was over.
The victory turned out to mean nothing for the Titans.
Tennessee needed the Bengals to lose to Baltimore and victories by Oakland and Denver to earn a playoff berth. And that would've landed the Titans right back in Houston next week to play the Texans.
But a 27-13 loss in Indianapolis two weeks ago proved costly, and the Titans will sit out the playoffs for the third straight season.
"We knew that after we lost to the Colts, which was kind of a low point for us, at that point we were 7-7," Hasselbeck said. "Coach Munchak came and said: `Hey, there's a lot of things this season that could have gone better, that we could have done better, but we didn't. That's in the past and there's nothing we can do about that."
The Texans, meanwhile, will head into the franchise's first postseason on a three-game losing streak and new concerns about their quarterback.
Rookie starter T.J. Yates left the game after one series and was replaced by the 36-year-old Delhomme. Kubiak said Yates had a bruised left shoulder but could've returned if necessary.
"Obviously, I didn't want him to go back in the game," Kubiak said. "We'll know better where we're at (Monday), at this point."
Delhomme, signed Nov. 29 in the wake of season-ending injuries to starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart, completed 18 of 28 passes in his first action since December 2010.
Johnson ran for 61 yards to go over 1,000 for the fourth consecutive season, and Rob Bironas kicked three field goals for Tennessee.
"It was an interesting ending," Munchak said. "Our goal was to come in here and win this game. We did that. We're 9-7 and that's all we can control."
Yates was sacked on Houston's first snap by Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan. He completed passes to Dreessen and James Casey for first downs, before Ben Tate and Derrick Ward started alternating touches for the rest of the drive.
Tate plowed into the end zone with 5:15 left in the first quarter, but Yates came off the field favoring his left shoulder and went to the locker room.
Yates jogged back to the Houston sideline for the start of the second quarter. But after Bironas kicked a 21-yard field goal, Delhomme returned for the Texans' next possession.
Titans defensive end Dave Ball sacked Delhomme and knocked the ball loose, and safety Chris Hope recovered at the Texans 33. Hasselbeck threw a 25-yard pass to Jared Cook, then found Donnie Avery in the corner of the end zone to move Tennessee in front.
Hasselbeck completed 22 of 35 passes for 297 yards without an interception.
Delhomme threw a 16-yard pass to Andre Johnson to get Houston moving again. Johnson caught two passes and sat out the second half after missing the previous three games with a strained left hamstring.
Notes: Hall and Titans LT Mike Otto left with "probable" concussions, Munchak said. WR Damian Williams has a rib injury, Munchak said, and would be re-evaluated Monday. ... The Texans dropped to 5-1 in season finales under Kubiak. ... Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips worked from the press box after missing two games following kidney and gall bladder surgery.