A short-handed Tennessee Titans team reached deep into its bag of tricks and deep into it inner core to gut out a 20-17 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
The Titans, who did not have quarterback Marcus Mariota due to an arm injury, and were also missing their top three offensive tackles and tight end Delanie Walker, used a fake punt, the wildcat formation installed in mid-week and a bend-but-don’t-break defense to squeeze out a three-point win inside the AFC South.
The Titans, who gave Coach Mike Vrabel his first victory, served notice to the Texans to expect almost anything when what appeared to be a defensive stop for Houston on the first series, turned into a 66-yard fake punt pass from safety Kevin Byard to safety Dane Cruikshank, who was the gunner on the punt team.
“I think my last throw in high school was a touchdown – a trick play. I think Vrabel must have seen my old film from high school and drew it up,” said Byard, who sailed a left-handed pass to a wide-open Cruikshank who did the rest en route to the end zone. “It was a certain look we were getting. We got the look last week, but we didn’t want to run it. I was surprised they gave us the look, but the coaches trusted me to call it and run it. It worked out and it was a big swing in the game.”
It gave Tennessee a quick 7-0 lead, one the Titans would build on in their next series with more tricks to throw at the Texans. Tennessee, using backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert to start, lined tailback Derrick Henry up in the wildcat formation, and the running back ran five straight plays getting the direct snap, and gaining 25 yards to move the Titans down to the Texans’ 31. Henry used four runs and a shovel pass to Taywan Taylor out of the wildcat.
From there, going back to a more conventional look, Gabbert found Taywan Taylor four plays later on an 18-yard touchdown throw.
“I’m familiar with it. I ran it a lot in high school,” Henry said of the wildcat. “I think we ran it one time at Bama n practice. But the wildcat is not too hard at all. Hopefully, we keep it in there.”