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Tennessee Titans beat Houston Texans to win consolation prize

By Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange 

Backup quarterback Matt Cassel threw for 150 yards and a touchdown as the Tennessee Titans led wire-to-wire in a 24-17 win over division champion Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last week, the Tennessee Titans missed an opportunity that cost them a chance to win the AFC South.
On Sunday, they salvaged their first winning season in five years.
Backup quarterback Matt Cassel threw for 150 yards and a touchdown as Tennessee led wire-to-wire in a 24-17 win over division champion Houston at Nissan Stadium.
In finishing at 9-7, the Titans improved by six games over last year's 3-13 record, which tied the Cleveland Browns for worst in the NFL. It ties the biggest one-season turnaround in franchise history, set in 1967 (1 win to 7) and 1974 (3 wins to 9).
"The future is bright for this team," tight end Delanie Walker said. "Everyone outside of Nashville is starting to see what we've got. It's something for us to build off. I'm looking forward to coming in here next year and seeing how we do."
Had Tennessee not flubbed last week's game in Jacksonville, where it absorbed a 38-17 beating to a team that entered the day at 2-12, it could have won the division. Walker admitted that the defeat still bothered the team several days after it occurred.
Instead of moping about it, though, the Titans bounced back with a decent showing against an opponent that rested several key players and at one point in the second half had just one of their 11 defensive starters still playing.
Cassel, playing in place of starter Marcus Mariota (broken leg), completed 16 of 26 passes with a tipped-ball interception. He found Rishard Matthews with a 2-yard scoring strike 23 seconds before halftime, giving Tennessee a 14-0 lead.
Rookie Derrick Henry got most of the snaps at running back and responded with 65 yards on 15 carries, including a 2-yard touchdown run with 4:44 left in the third quarter for a 21-7 advantage.
And the defense, shredded last week by Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, responded by pitching a first-half shutout and even scoring its first touchdown of the year. Linebacker Sean Spence strip-sacked Tom Savage at the 8-yard line and the ball rolled into the end zone, where DaQuan Jones recovered it for a 7-0 lead barely over five minutes into the game.
"I think everyone was really energized and (upset) over what happened last week," defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. "We were (upset) that we let a team in our division beat on us the way Jacksonville did last week, and we weren't going to let that happen again today."
While the Titans were playing for pride, the Texans (9-7) were essentially playing for contractual obligation. With no chance of improving its seed, Houston held out six starters, five on defense, and then had to remove quarterback Tom Savage (concussion) for the second half.
Savage was injured on the first play of the second quarter while sneaking for a first down. He was cleared from protocol and kneeled down on the first half's last snap but he was re-evaluated at the half and was declared out.
"I don't know anything about the injuries," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I just walked off the field. I don't meet with the doctors."
Deposed starter Brock Osweiler played all but one play of the final three quarters, completing 21 of 40 passes for 253 yards and a 4-yard touchdown to C.J. Federowicz with 10:31 left in the third quarter. Osweiler also ran for a 1-yard score with 3:11 remaining in the game that pulled Houston within seven points.
The Texans got the ball back at their 18 with 53 seconds and no timeouts left. They got to their 34, but Casey sacked Osweiler on third down and a fourth down pass fell incomplete.
Moments after Cassel took a knee, Tennessee got to celebrate just its second winning season since capturing the AFC South in 2008.
"Other than not making the playoffs, I feel good about what we've accomplished this year," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "I'm proud of the players who have stuck with us from the last two years, when we had the worst record in football."
-- Houston deactivated six starters, including DE Jadeveon Clowney, LB John Simon, RB Lamar Miller, CB Johnathan Joseph, FB Jay Prosch and ILB Brian Cushing. It also deactivated QB Brandon Weeden.
-- Tennessee's inactives were WR Kendall Wright, CB Jason McCourty, DB Curtis Riley, OLB David Bass, OG Sebastian Tretola, TE Jace Amaro and DE Angelo Blackson.
-- Titans RB DeMarco Murray was held to 21 yards on 11 carries but won the AFC rushing title (1,287 yards) over the idle Le'Veon Bell of Pittsburgh.

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