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December 3, 2012

NFL: Texans beat Titans to clinch playoff berth

NASHVILLE — Antonio Smith picked up the ball J.J. Watt forced Titans running back Chris Johnson into fumbling, and the Texans' defensive end ran from the Houston 37 all the way to the end zone.

Smith walked around the end zone holding the ball up just in case he'd scored a touchdown.

Officials insisted the play had been whistled dead after Smith recovered the ball, so the Houston Texans forced five more turnovers and also had six sacks in beating the Tennessee Titans 24-10 on Sunday to clinch a second straight playoff berth.

"They blew the whistle,'' Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think it could be a touchdown for us but unfortunately they blew a whistle, and it's not. There's nothing you can do about it. We did a great job of getting turnovers all day long.''

Easy for Kubiak to be charitable after his Texans set a franchise-record for wins in a season by improving to 11-1 with their sixth straight victory. They also improved to 6-0 on the road - the NFL's only unbeaten team away from home. And just for good measure, they also swept the Titans, the team they replaced in Houston, for only the second time as a franchise.

Fullback James Casey, who caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Matt Schaub, said the feeling of clinching is a lot different this year than last season. The Texans are happy to know they're in the playoffs with more goals still ahead.

"We have a lot higher aspirations this year, but still we clinched the playoffs and that's hard to do,'' Casey said. "We're in it now. We have a shot. We have other things we want to do too. We want to clinch the division, we want to get home field advantage, so we have a lot of work to do and are already looking forward. We know we have a really big game against New England on Monday night, so we're excited about that.''

Rookie Whitney Mercilus had two sacks, Watt had another sack giving him 15 1/2 and the Texans also batted down a handful of Jake Locker's passes.

"We kind of got after him and frustrated him a little bit, and that was our goal,'' Watt said. "The defense played great, and I think the defense did a heck of a job. I'm very proud of how we played.''

Schaub also threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns, including a 54-yarder to Lestar Jean on the opening drive to put Houston ahead to stay. Arian Foster scored on a 2-yard TD run as the Texans led 21-3 at halftime to avoid any overtime drama after needing extra time to beat Jacksonville and Detroit in a span of five days in their last two games.

"Our defense really won the game for us,'' Schaub said. "They created all those turnovers and stops on fourth down. The game ball goes to the defense because we weren't holding up our end on offense.''

For the Titans (4-8), the issues are growing quickly. They lost a second straight game and now have combined for 13 turnovers in back-to-back home losses. Locker fumbled twice and was intercepted three times. Right tackle David Stewart broke his right leg on the opening series, and left guard Steve Hutchinson hurt his right knee late in the first half.

"What could go wrong, would go wrong,'' Titans coach Mike Munchak said.

Tennessee outgained the Texans 354-332 in total offense with Locker throwing for 309 yards in the debut of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. He took over when Chris Palmer was fired a week ago. But when Locker settled down, his teammates took turns dropping balls or wiping out big plays with penalties.

"When he got going, then other people took their turns at making mistakes, so it was just sloppy, on the offensive side of the ball, at different times throughout the game,'' Munchak said.

 

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