HOUSTON – Deshaun Watson threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a third as the Houston Texans set a franchise record with their eighth straight win, 34-17 over the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.
Demaryius Thomas scored his first two touchdowns as a Texan and Lamar Miller ran for 162 yards, including a 97-yard TD.
In the first game since founder and owner Robert "Bob" McNair died on Friday, the Texans (8-3) honored him by wearing decals on the back of their helmets in the shape of a football with white block letters bearing his initials of "RCM."
With that reminder on their helmets, they became the first team in NFL history to win eight games in a row after starting 0-3. They lead Indianapolis by two games in the AFC South.
The Texans trailed by 10 early before reeling off 27 straight points. Tennessee (5-6) finally scored again on a 48-yard reception by Corey Davis late in the third quarter, but the second TD by Thomas -- this one for 10 yards -- made it 34-17 with just more than eight minutes left.
Marcus Mariota, who missed the second half of last week's game after suffering a stinger, was 22 of 23 for 303 yards and two touchdowns. He completed his first 19 passes before an incompletion with just more than a minute remaining.
Miller's 97-yard breakaway in the second quarter made it 21-10. It was the longest run in franchise history and the longest run in the NFL since his dash of the same length for a touchdown on Dec. 28, 2014, while with the Dolphins. He's now the only player in league history with two career rushing touchdowns of 95 yards or longer.
The Titans went ahead 3-0 on their first possession, and Jonnu Smith had a career-long 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown that extended their lead less than halfway through the first quarter.
Houston got going after that, cutting the lead to 10-7 when Thomas grabbed his first touchdown since being traded from Denver on Oct. 30, a 12-yard grab with about six minutes left in the quarter.
Watson put the Texans on top when he scrambled 15 yards for a score on the first play of the second quarter.
The Titans went for it on fourth-and-inches from the 3 later in the second, but tight end Luke Stocker was stopped for no gain.
Miller's long TD, which helped Houston set a franchise record with 281 yards rushing, came on the next play. He took the handoff in the end zone and darted through a crowd of Titans before shedding one tackle and simply outrunning the rest of the defense.
The Texans kicked a field goal as time expired in the second quarter to take a 24-10 lead into halftime.
The Texans honored McNair in a pregame ceremony, which included a video tribute to him while the Texas A&M Singing Cadets sang "Amazing Grace." While the video was played, one side of the video board displayed the words: "Faith, Family, Philanthropy, Football."
Painted on both 25-yard lines was a football with his initials that looked just like the decals on the players' helmets.
Television cameras panned to several fans with signs honoring the late owner with one that read: "McNair Never Forgotten."
Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler left in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion and did not return. ... Houston WR Keke Coutee didn't return after injuring his hamstring in the third quarter.
Titans: Host the New York Jets on Sunday.
Texans: Host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
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O'Brien likes to remind his team of the competitive balance in the NFL and how close many of Houston's games have been this season.
"It's been a slim margin," he said. "I think guys have improved in their individual play, I think that we make more plays now in critical moments than we made earlier in the season, I think we're coaching better, but I think ... our guys understand (that) if we don't continue to work, put the time in, understand the detail of each play, the situation that we're in, then we're going to be back where we were."
Houston has been able to pile up so many wins in part because so many players have made big plays. Sure, stars like J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney have had their share of important plays over the last seven games. But the Texans have also gotten key contributions from their lesser knowns.
On Sunday that player was third-round pick Justin Reid, who returned an interception 101 yards for a touchdown. It was the second-longest interception return for a touchdown in Texans history and longest since a 102-yarder in 2004. The play also tied for the second-longest interception return for a touchdown by a rookie in NFL history, trailing a 103-yarder by Pete Barnum in 1926.
Watson loves that so many different players have been contributing during the streak.
"It's top-notch," the quarterback said. "Somebody is going to step up and make a play. It's what got us to seven wins in a row, so it's pretty incredible."
Reid's long return was the talk of the stadium on Monday.
"I haven't been around too many pick-6s for 101 yards or whatever it was, but they're exciting plays," O'Brien said. "You can tell right away that it's going to go because you can see it kind of open up and it's coming toward you. That's a pretty cool feeling if you're the coach of that team."
Along with looking for ways to limit their mistakes and improve this week, the Texans will try to give receiver Demaryius Thomas a bigger role. Sunday was the veteran's second game with Houston after being traded from Denver on Oct. 30. Thomas had three receptions for 61 yards in his debut, but didn't have a catch on two targets Sunday.
"He did some good things," O'Brien said. "He ran some good routes. The ball just didn't go his way. We'll continue to work with him. I think he's a great teammate, he understands, he just wants to win, but I think we need to work at really getting him more involved in the offense. No doubt about it."
While O'Brien spent most of Monday talking about needed improvement, he did acknowledge that cleaning up little things is way easier when you're winning.
"When you're winning, you're able to stand up in front of your team, put the film on and say: 'Look, this is good, but this still is not very good, and if it doesn't get better, it's not going to be very good on Monday night,'" O'Brien said. "So, I think that that's a big thing, and they'll look at the tape ... and they'll say: 'Yep, we do need to improve on that. We can't do that again.'"