Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 1/1/12
HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans didn't need to win, and did not. The Tennessee Titans needed to win, and did. It was the game that smoothly combined the principles of both American football and socialism. It wasn't exactly Utopia -- it wasn't exactly interesting the whole time, even -- but the Titans left the stadium happy and the Texans left it not all that sad, and when the final gun sounded there was a chance they'd be meeting on the same field in the playoffs next week, to settle it for real. A good time was had by all. "Everybody's really excited," Texans running back Arian Foster said. "It's like Christmas," Titans receiver Nate Washington said. The Titans jubilation was short lived. Tennessee (9-7) beat Houston (10-6) 23-22 Sunday at Reliant Stadium in a game Houston didn't try especially hard to win. That kept their playoff hopes alive for a few hours, until they didn't get the help they needed from elsewhere in the AFC. The Texans sat several key starters and played with the second-team defense most of the second half. Their AFC playoff seed (No. 3) wasn't going to change either way, and if there is one thing the Texans have shown they can do this season, it is suffer a major injury to a key player. So they started T.J. Yates at quarterback, but removed him after four pass attempts and a supposed injury to his non-throwing shoulder and played the Cajun Snake (Jake Delhomme) and an assortment of other reserves. This resulted in a level of slapdashery typically reserved for preseason games and fraternity pranks. "We struggled with some structure, some of the things we do offensively," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "When you're to your fourth guy, you're going to probably struggle with some of those things." One of the game's first lights (high or low is a matter of personal taste) was when Texans linebacker Brian Braman lost his helmet, then made a head-to-helmet tackle on a ball-carrying Titan, an event that whipped the Reliant Stadium crowd into the kind of delirium only unprotected tackling inspires. The unfazed warrior remained the part even after the game. "I don't know if my head is really that hard," Braman said. "But I don't remember my head hitting his helmet." Things progressed from there. Yates left the game in the first half with the kind of shoulder injury that wouldn't have kept him out of a game of any consequence. Besides, coach Gary Kubiak said, the Cajun Snake needed some work. Delhomme completed 18 of 28 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. It was a genuinely encouraging performance for him and for Houston, considering Delhomme is the fourth quarterback to take a snap for the Texans this year. But the numerical story belies the true nature of the outing, which was more of an adventure than anything else. For one thing, this all was something of a comeback story for Delhomme, who likes to say you don't retire from the NFL so much as it retires you. That was Delhomme's fate until just weeks ago, and he had his moments Sunday that reminded everybody why that was the case. The lost fumble on a sack in the first half was forgivable and unfunny. But then came the possession on which Delhomme, flushed from the pocket with a path to the end zone, avoided crossing the line of scrimmage like it was the edge of a volcano. Then there was the play on which he was getting sacked and, falling to his knees with his torso facing the sideline, threw a pass directly into the hands of a nearby Titan. Officially, the play was wiped out by penalty, but its memory lives on. As it often does, it all came down to the final two minutes. Tennessee had taken a 23-16 lead with 4:31 left and had the ball with a chance to run out the clock, right up until running back Ahmard Hall lost a fumble with 1:49 left. The Texans took over at the Tennessee 36, hoping for some venom from the Cajun Snake. He completed four straight passes, spiked the ball, threw one away, then hit backup receiver Bryant Johnson in the back of the end zone for what ordinarily would have been the tying score. But this was not an ordinary situation, and rather than risk playing a few more minutes in overtime, the Texans decided this game was going to be decided right then and there, with the hand of Delhomme. They lined up for a two-point conversion, and Joel Dreessen jumped offside. Well, Kubiak said later, maybe if it had been a 15-yard penalty he would have kicked it, but the situation being what it was, might as well still go for it. Thomas Austin, a backup guard who was playing center, snapped the ball over Delhomme's head, Tennessee scooped it up and that was that. Some wondered if Austin was getting some on-the-job training Sunday. "He's snapped," Kubiak said. "He's snapped a bunch. He had some poor ones today, but he's snapped a bunch." The Texans lost for the third week in a row, but they were pretty cool with it. Yates said the team was fired up in the locker room, having played well enough to nearly win the game despite making no serious attempt to do so. "There was some yelling and some pumping up after a loss," Yates said, "which is very rare."
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