Despite another disappointing season with a losing record and not making the playoffs in the Mike Munchak-era, the Tennessee Titans (7-9) still played with a purpose during its last game of year.
"Yeah, I think today was a good day for us just to go out there and enjoy playing the game of football," said Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Tennessee, which finished two games out of the final spot in the AFC playoffs, made it a point to finish strong, playing hard for the fans and displaying home-field pride in a 16-10 win over the Houston Texans.
At the start of the season, Houston (2-14) was predicted to contend for a Super Bowl appearance and that projection looked solid after the team started with a 2-0 record. Then came the unthinkable – a dismal season with 14 straight losses.
"It's very disappointing, and I think it is something that no one could foresee certainly. We got in a whirlwind, and it never ended," said Houston interim head coach Wade Phillips.
Although Sunday's game had no effect on the postseason for either team, the Texans came out like a team that wanted to finish the season with a win. On their first possession, the Texans marched down the field with ease to go up 7-0 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Grimes.
"Yeah, usually I just hand the ball to the ref," said Grimes, who scored his first NFL toughdown. "I told him, 'I usually hand it to you, but I want to keep this one.' It was my first one, and I wanted to bring that home to my pops," said Grimes, who finished with 16 rushes for 50 yards.
Houston didn't score again until Randy Bullock kicked a 19-yard field goal with 2:53 remaining in the game.
The Tennessee defense was plus three in the turnover ratio against Houston. The Titans this season were 7-2 with an even or positive turnover ratio, and 0-7 when committing more turnovers than their opponents.
Akeem Ayers forced a fumble that was recovered by Zach Brown and Ayers also intercepted Matt Schaub on the Texans' second offensive play of the second half.
Titans defensive tackle Sammie Hill recovered a fumble by Schaub on the third play of the fourth quarter. The Ayers interception (his first of the season) and fumble recovery led to 10 Titans points.
Chris Johnson of the Titans become the sixth player in NFL history with 1,000 or more rushing yards in his first six seasons. Johnson joined Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson and Corey Dillon as the only players to do so.
Johnson rushed 27 times for 127 yards, including an 11-yard TD that gave Tennessee a 13-7 lead with 5:39 remaining in the third quarter. It was his second-highest rushing total of the season and gave him 1,077 rushing yards on the year.
"I knew Chris was going to come to play today," Tennessee QB Fitzpatrick. "CJ did a great job all day. You know, some tough runs, some tough yards. Almost broke a few of them for the big home run, but ran hard all day. You could just tell he wanted it."
After the game, Titans head coach Mike Munchak said, "I am just proud of how well they have handled themselves, how hard we have worked, how important it was to finish with the wins we did, and play hard."
There's still the question about Munchak's future as Tennessee's head coach. The Titans have not had a winning season with Munchak at the helm.
"I don't know why he would be out. I feel like he did a great job and prepared us for games like he is supposed to do," said tight end Delanie Walker. "He's a good coach you want to play for. He's not the kind of coach who talks behind your back. If he has something to say, he tells you, and then if he has to say it to the media, he'll go say it to the media.
"I'm behind him 100 percent, and I think everybody else here is," said Walker. "I wish the best for him. I hope he is coming back. ...I'm looking forward to coming back and having another good year with him."
"Once I get a timetable exactly on how they want to precede, then I will have an opportunity to sit down and talk about this football team and how I see going forward," said Munchak.