NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — No Marcus Mariota. Both starting offensive tackles out, along with the top backup against Houston and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
Mike Vrabel gave the NFL a glimpse at just how much of a difference he and his assistants can make for the Tennessee Titans as the rookie picked up his first victory as a head coach.
Vrabel and his coaching staff dug into the playbook for a 66-yard touchdown pass off a fake punt, some wildcat on offense and a defense that kept Deshaun Watson in check with the game on the line Sunday to pull out a 20-17 victory over the Houston Texans.
“We’ve got a lot more coming for sure,” Titans tight end Jonnu Smith said of victories for Vrabel.
Blaine Gabbert started in Mariota’s place and threw for 117 yards and a touchdown. All-Pro safety Kevin Byard threw the TD pass on the fake punt, and Ryan Succop kicked field goals of 42 and 31 yards in the fourth quarter for the victory. Gabbert described the coaching staff’s aggressiveness as gritty.
“The message that Vrabel kind of relays throughout this organization, through the coaching staff to the players is to keep fighting,” Gabbert said. “Turn it into a fistfight week in, week out.”
The Titans (1-1) also came up with four sacks and an interception. They allowed only one sack with Gabbert throwing quickly and coaches giving right tackle Tyler Marz help slowing down Watt.
Houston had the ball and a chance to at least force overtime. By the time Watson found DeAndre Hopkins on a 31-yarder to the Tennessee 21, time had expired leaving the Texans 0-2 to start a season filled with high expectations, if only because so many are back healthy this year.
“You’ve got to keep fighting,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said. “It’s a long season. What are you going to do? You have two choices. One is not very good, so you’ve got to fight your way up.”
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