comscore Mariota’s last-minute drive broken up as Texans beat Titans 27-20 | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Mariota’s last-minute drive broken up as Texans beat Titans 27-20

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (15) returns a punt 67-yards for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016, in Houston.

HOUSTON >> Will Fuller had never returned a punt for a touchdown at any level entering Sunday’s game.

Moments after he grabbed the first return of his NFL career he knew that was about to change.

“It was wide open,” Fuller said. “It was probably one of the easiest touchdowns I’ve scored.”

Fuller had a tiebreaking 67-yard punt return for a touchdown and the Houston Texans earned a 27-20 win over the Tennessee Titans in their first game without J.J. Watt.

It was the first time Houston (3-1) had played without its star defensive end since the 2010 season after Watt , who is out for the season after back surgery, had started 83 straight games since being drafted in 2011.

Fuller also had 81 yards receiving and a touchdown.

Tennessee (1-3) was driving with less than two minutes remaining, but Marcus Mariota’s pass to former Texan Andre Johnson on fourth down was broken up to secure the victory.

The Texans squandered an early 14-point lead and their offense was struggling in the second half when Fuller took the punt back for a touchdown to make it 27-20 late in the third quarter.

“That gave us a real shot in the arm,” coach Bill O’Brien said.

Fuller, who ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the combine, took the punt and quickly made a trio of Titans miss before outrunning everyone else down the sideline for the score.

The 21st overall pick in this year’s draft was so far ahead of any defenders that he slowed down Usain Bolt-style near the 5-yard line and trotted into the end zone.

“Once I got past everybody I knew it was a touchdown,” Fuller said. “So I didn’t want run to the back of the end zone and look crazy.”

It was Houston’s first punt return for a touchdown since 2013 and he became the first player in franchise history to have a TD reception and a punt return for a score in the same game. Fuller’s 5-yard touchdown reception made it 14-0 in the first.

The Titans’ game plan was to shut down receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and they did that, limiting him to just one catch for 4 yards. But putting so much emphasis on him left Fuller open to make plays.

“You can take one away; you can’t take two away,” coach Mike Mularkey said.

Fuller’s return came after Jadeveon Clowney led a defensive stand following Brock Osweiler’s second interception of the game.

Clowney, the top overall pick in 2014, sacked Mariota for a 6-yard loss on first down and chased down Delanie Walker after a reception on third down to force a punt.

The Texans raced out to a 14-0 lead after touchdown passes by Osweiler on their first two possessions.

The teams exchanged field goals before two touchdown runs by DeMarco Murray tied it at 17-17. But the Texans added a field goal to lead 20-17 at halftime.

MARIOTA’S MISTAKES: Like Osweiler, Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota has more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four) this season after throwing one interception on Sunday. The interception came when it looked as if he threw the ball directly to Houston’s Quintin Demps in the second quarter.

“It was just a miscommunication on my part,” Mariota said. “Delanie (Walker) did a great job of just sitting in the hole. Just a bad throw. I should have just put it on him a little more.”

WALKER AND WRIGHT RETURN: Walker returned on Sunday after sitting out last week with a right hamstring injury. Walker, who had a career-high 94 catches for 1,088 yards last season, had two receptions for 34 yards on Sunday. The Titans also had receiver Kendall Wright back on Sunday after he missed the first three games with a hamstring injury. Wright finished with two receptions for 14 yards.

Mariota was glad to have Wright back.

“He’s a playmaker for us,” Mariota said. “The more I give him the ball, the better he gets.”

MURRAY’S FIRST HALF: Sunday was the first time since 2013 against the Raiders that Murray had two rushing touchdowns before halftime. He had 12 carries for 56 yards before the break and finished with 95 yards rushing.

THEY SAID IT: Mariota on the struggles of the offense in the second half: “We just weren’t able to finish. We would get a first down here, a first down there, and, unfortunately, whether it was a penalty or miscommunication, just not executing. We just weren’t able to do our jobs.”

CUSHING RETURNS: Houston middle linebacker Brian Cushing returned after sitting out the past two games after injuring his knee in the season opener. He finished with four tackles. He was happy to be back so soon after he was initially expected to be out five or six weeks.

“I didn’t want to be out that long and (we) really cut the time down big time,” he said. “I was just really excited to be back out there.”

INJURY REPORT: Tennessee DL Al Woods pulled a calf muscle and Mularkey said he’ll be out at least four weeks. … Houston TE C.J. Fiedorowicz injured his knee early on Sunday, but returned in the second half and said he was OK.

UP NEXT: Titans : Visit the Dolphins on Sunday.

Texans : Visit the Vikings on Sunday.

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    • Finish my above comment: Mariota was good in High School and College but at the professional level
      he seems to be having some problems and look like an average QB. Reminds me of Wie who was good before turning Pro and although she won four tournaments as a professional she hasn’t been playing up to expectation.
      I think its going to be a long season for Tennessee.

      • Mariota was a great quarter back in high school, and an exemplary quarterback in college. It is too early to draw any conclusions regarding his pro career. You have to remember who he is play for and with. The team still needs to shore up a number of positions.

  • Besides a coaching chg. in Tennessee, don’t be surprised if the Titans go shopping for a FIRST RATE QB instead of a high school qb. in Mariota. His honeymoon in Tennessee is just about over as the blogs /comments in Tennessee is constantly asking for a chg. in qb’s as Mariota has cost his team to many turnovers and losses. Watching him play is just painful…..his time as a pro player is very limited…maybe another year or two before he is back in Hawaii running his own clinic on how to throw interceptions and create turnovers…..his asst. will probably be Timmy Chang….both QB’s make a good couple throwing interceptions ……………nothing more and nothing less.

    • That’s not what I’m reading. In fact, the fans are solidly behind Marcus and believe he makes them a lot more competitive than previous years. For example, read the comments attached to this article from TitansOnline — http://tinyurl.com/zgb547u. If anything, they’re blaming the HC for his outdated playbook. I have to agree with this criticism. Everyone has seen what Marcus can do when he runs a hurry-up Oregon-type offense.

    • Your crude comments about Timmy Chang are uncalled for. In Hawaii, Timmy is and will always be a standard as a QB and a human being. He’s a hero. Like Marcus, he’s carried himself as a gentleman on and off the field. He’s always been humble and respectful. We, all of Hawaii nei, couldn’t be prouder of this keiki o ka aina. Given different breaks and circumstances, he could have been very successful as a pro QB. But he never gave up, and he always kept positive. He’s still young, and much of his life is still ahead of him. In the long run, it really does come down to how the game is played, and in that respect, Timmy will always be a winner.

  • Sophomore slump? Once NFL D-coordinators get film on QB’s, they can bring some rookie sensations back to Earth. Still early. Hopefully, he can make adjustments.

  • When I watch the Titans, I feel like Mariota is not playing comfortably. He’s too controlled — like the coaching staff has gotten into his head and he’s trying to think too much. He needs to go more with his instincts that were let run free at Oregon. Stop thinking, Marcus, and just play.

  • Nothing wrong with Mariota’s QBing. He has only one bona fide receiver — TE Delanie Walker. The others can’t get open, fail to run good routes, can’t hold on to the ball. Give him a few top receivers, and we’ll see a huge difference. The O-line is pretty good. The RBs are very good. They need receivers in the next draft. The D is good, too.

  • One of the important indicators of qb greatness is the ability to lead a team to a come back victory. He had 1 a few weeks back,should have at least tied the Raiders last week except for 2 penalties of which 1 negated the tying touchdown and could have tied yesterday’s game (missed interference call on 3rd down when db ran right through the receiver to break up a pass which would have given them a 1st down in the red zone). He just gotta clean things up and play the rest of the game like he’s shown he is capable of doing in those late game situations and he should be able to live up to those lofty expectations.

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