HOUSTON _ Luck was on the Tennessee Titans' side at the end of their 23-22 victory over the Houston Texans Sunday at Reliant Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Titans, they weren't able to parlay that luck into a playoff berth as their hopes evaporated several hundred miles away when the Denver Broncos lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. Minutes later, the Oakland Raiders lost to San Diego, another game the Titans needed to go the opposite way.
“We put ourselves in the position we're in, so ... it's our own fault. We had chances the last four or five weeks to better our situation and be more in control of our own destiny,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said.
Thanks to a botched two-point conversion as Thomas Austin's shotgun snap sailed over the head of quarterback Jake Delhomme and was recovered by the Titans' William Hayes.
That play came just after a gift touchdown by the Titans, who fumbled when Ahmard Hall took a vicious hit from Tim Dobbins and the Texans recovered at the Tennessee 36 with 1:49 to play after Houston had used all its timeouts.
Delhomme, subbing for rookie T.J. Yates, who suffered a shoulder injury to his non-throwing side, found Bryant Johnson for the potential tying TD with 14 seconds to play.
But the Texans, already treating the game like it was preseason, opted to go for two, rather than play for overtime. Houston, with playoff positioning already locked up and hoping to avoid injuries, wanted no part of any extra period.
A false start on Joel Dreessen pushed the Texans back five yards just before the fateful snap that helped the Titans claim the game.
“That's how we do it. We'd have it no other way,” safety Chris Hope said of the Titans' penchant for having games go down to the wire. “Since I've been here, we find a way to make it an instant classic.”
The entire game wasn't exactly a thing of beauty, as the Texans kept benching starters and resting players, and the Titans rarely took full advantage of it.
Tennessee finally some semblance of the upper hand with 4:31 to play when Matt Hasselbeck hit Nate Washington with a 23-yard rainbow of a touchdown pass to put the Titans ahead 23-16.
That was seemingly enough to hand the Titans the victory, except for the late fumble, a play on which Hall was knocked unconscious, that gave the Texans their final chance before the chaotic two-point try.
For the Titans, the victory was a nice way to end Munchak's first season as head coach with a winning record, but it rang hollow as the Titans were eliminated around the time they would have arrived back in Nashville on Sunday evening.
“Every team can look back and say if we woulda, coulda, shoulda done this.
We're not different. Every team will say that. Even the Green Bay Packers will say that, but it's a weird feeling right now,” said Hasselbeck of the Titans' situation before they were officially eliminated a couple of hours later.
In a season of transition with Munchak taking over for Jeff Fisher, the Titans managed a winning season and to have playoff life left heading into the regular-season's final week. As it turned out, it wasn't enough.
“It's not bad, but anytime you don't get in the playoffs, it's a disappointing year. Your goal is to get in the playoffs in this league,” guard Jake Scott said.
The Titans did take some consolation in finishing strong and above .500 with their final two victories.
“At the point where we were 7-7 and in the tank about playing really poorly against Indy, “ Hasselbeck said, “it was important for us to regroup and I think Munch did a ice job of splashing some water on our face and basically said, 'Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You can't do anything about the past. But you can be proud about finishing strong these last two games and finishing 9-7 and controlling what we can control. That's what we've most recently done, and I think that's something we can be proud of.”