Marcus Mariota was nearly flawless in the passing game, completing his first 19 passes on the way to hitting 22 of 23 throws for 303 yards and two touchdown passes.
Now the bad. Nearly everything else that took place Monday night. In between Mariota's performance, the Titans self-destructed on both sides of the ball. They allowed the Texans 281 yards rushing, highlighted by a game-changing 97-yard touchdown by Lamar Miller. They surrendered two passing touchdowns and a rushing TD to Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. And they gave up six sacks, and had seven costly penalties for 50 yards.
The bad the Titans did more than offset the good, as the loss drops the Titans to 5-6 overall, and all but eliminated them from the AFC South division race, as Houston won for the eighth straight time and now leads the Titans by three games in the division with five to play.
The Titans did well early, racing out to a 10-0 lead. Tennessee converted its opening drive into a 31-yard Ryan Succop field goal to go up 3-0, and after holding Houston on its opening series, the Titans got a 61-yard TD pass from Mariota to Jonnu Smith, who leaked out into the pass route late after pass protecting and went untouched to the end zone.
DeShaun Watson rallied the Texans, answering quickly with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas to cut the Tennessee lead to 10-7, and then scrambling 15 yards for the go-ahead score on the first play of the second quarter.
But the Titans troubles were just beginning. Mariota drove the Titans into the red zone on the ensuing series. Facing a fourth-and-inches at the Texans' 3, the Titans elected to go for it and handed the ball off to tight end Luke Stocker on a fullback dive. He was stopped cold in his tracks by Texans linebackers Zach Cunningham and Bernardick McKinney, turning away the Titans' threat.
Then, on the very next play, Lamar Miller bolted through the left side of the Titans defense and went 97 yards to push the lead to 21-10, and essentially putting Tennessee in catch-up mode for the remainder of the night.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel was questioned about handing the ball to Stocker, who had never had a carry in his eight-year career before that one.
"We were just trying to run a belly (fullback dive). It's a play we've seen have some success down there at their goal line in the past." Vrabel said. "Like most of the plays we tried to run tonight, we thought it was something we had a chance with. Give them credit. They made a play. That play is something we've seen on film against the defense. That was the idea. It was a play that had worked in the past against that."
For his part, Stocker placed the blame on himself for not converting.
"Definitely looking back on it, that was a big turning point in the game. That's on me. I've got to do something different to get that first down, when we just needed a foot. I've got to figure out a way to get it," he said.
Likewise, the defense was plenty culpable on the back end, allowing Miller to go the distance as part of a 162-yard rushing night on just 12 carries for him.
"It was a big two-play sequence right there. I put that personally on myself. I can't let that get behind me as a safety. Give them credit, they blocked it well. They scored a touchdown," safety Kevin Byard said of the defense's lapse there.
Added cornerback Logan Ryan, "Obviously, it's a large swing in the game. We were going in to get points, and they were backed up, which usually means if you keep them backed up, it means points for your offense, and we didn't. They got seven, and it was a 14-point swing. It was the largest swing in the game. We fell short on defense on that play. Regardless of what happens, we've got to tackle him. That's unfortunate."
The Titans were never able to bounce back, trailing 24-10 at halftime, and falling behind 27-10 at one point in the third quarter.
Late in the third period, Tennessee showed signs of life briefly, when Mariota found Corey Davis for a 48-yard touchdown. It was part of a big night for Davis, who had four catches for 96 yards and a score and also added a 39-yard run on an end around out of the wildcat formation.
But the Texans put the game away in the fourth quarter when Watson found Thomas for the second time in the end zone, this time from 10 yards out to seal the win with 8:15 to play.
At 5-6, the Titans now probably have to win out in their final five games to have a legitimate chance at the postseason, because they are behind in head-to-head tiebreakers with four other teams that are also in the wild-card hunt.
But Byard said that the big picture is not the focus right now for the Titans.
"I guarantee that nobody in this locker room is thinking about running the table right now," Byard said. "The only thing we can think about is coming back in on Wednesday and getting better every single day until we play the Jets."