NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In what was supposed be a meaningless contest against the Tennessee Titans -- although one that Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien said all week his team was playing to win -- the Texans lost more than just the game.
In Houston’s 24-17 loss to the Titans to end the regular season, starting quarterback Tom Savage left the game with a concussion early in the second quarter. Former starting quarterback Brock Osweiler took over for two series before Savage was cleared to return to the game. Savage came back with 23 seconds left in the first half to take a knee.
O’Brien told Texans radio at halftime that Savage would start the third quarter. Then Savage was re-evaluated for a concussion at halftime and was ruled out for the game. So for the second half, the offense once again was Osweiler’s.
Even before Savage was hurt, he and the offense struggled. On the first two series before the drive Savage got hurt, the Texans ran nine plays for minus-4 yards. The Texans failed to score in the first half for the second game in a row, and Houston has not scored a touchdown in the first half of each of the past three games. The Texans had three drives that resulted in negative yards against the Titans.
Savage was 5-of-8 for 25 yards and a fumble in a little more than a quarter of work. Osweiler finished 21-of-40 for 253 yards and a third-quarter touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. He also ran in a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
"When you're the backup quarterback, your job is to prepare like the starter and be ready to play at all times," Osweiler said. "So, Tom came out of the game with a concussion, had to get evaluated [and] I was ready to step in there. And then I was told right before we went in at halftime that Coach was going to go with Tom in the second half. We came in at halftime and I was told I'm going to go in to start the third quarter.
"That's what it's all about -- being prepared and ready to step in when your team needs you."
The Texans have played the past two games without starting running back Lamar Miller, who "should" be back for the playoff game after being inactive for two weeks with an ankle injury, according to O'Brien. But even though the Texans leaned on their running game and defense all season while Osweiler struggled, it will be hard for the Texans to win a playoff game if either Savage or Osweiler plays as poorly they have in recent weeks.
Veteran left tackle Duane Brown said the offensive line has to "be better" in the playoffs.
"We have to run the ball better," Brown said. "We have to correct it fast because we have to run the ball and we have to pass the ball, and in order to do that, you have to protect.
"We have to protect early for our quarterback's confidence and be able to make plays to keep our defense off the field."
A bright spot on offense for the Texans was wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins' seven catches for 123 yards, which was just his second game this season with more than 100 receiving yards. Just one catch for 8 yards came with Savage at quarterback. O'Brien said he thought Hopkins "did a nice job," particularly with the run after his 51-yard catch from Osweiler in the third quarter.
But even if Savage is cleared to return to practice and play in the Texans’ home playoff game next weekend -- or if Osweiler returns as the starter -- the Texans’ offense did not show Sunday that it is ready to win a playoff game.