October 21, 2010

2007: Rob Bironas Kicks 8 FGs as Titans Nip Texans

In his first two seasons with the Tennessee Titans, placekicker Rob Bironas had demonstrated that he had a strong leg and the ability to make kicks in the clutch. While there had been occasional accuracy issues, his 78.9 % success rate on field goals was solid. In his third year, 2007, his memorable performance on October 21 served notice that he had reached the level of the league’s premier kickers.

The Titans were 3-2 as they traveled to Houston to take on the Texans at Reliant Stadium. Tennessee, under 14th-year Head Coach Jeff Fisher, was coming off of an 8-8 season and seeking improvement under second-year QB Vince Young. However, Young had suffered a quadriceps injury the week before in a loss to Tampa Bay and 34-year-old veteran Kerry Collins was starting in his place. Houston was under second-year Head Coach Gary Kubiak and had a new quarterback in Matt Schaub, obtained from Atlanta during the offseason.

The Titans started off the scoring on their first possession as Bironas boomed a 52-yard field goal. The clubs traded fumbles and then Houston went three-and-out and punted. But on Tennessee’s first play, Collins fumbled when sacked by LB DeMeco Ryans, who picked up the loose ball and ran 26 yards for a touchdown that gave the Texans a 7-3 lead.

On Houston’s next possession, Schaub suffered an ankle injury and left the game. His replacement, Sage Rosenfels, threw an interception on his first play to give the Titans good field position at the Texans’ 38 yard line. The resulting drive stalled at the seven and Bironas kicked his second field goal, of 25 yards, to narrow Houston’s lead to 7-6, which was the score at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter was all Tennessee as Bironas kicked field goals of 21, 30, and 28 yards and RB LenDale White scored on a one-yard touchdown run. Meanwhile, Schaub had returned to the lineup, but the Texans were forced to punt three times and lost a fumble. A hip injury near the end of the quarter knocked Schaub out of the game for good, and Bironas’ fifth field goal as time expired staked the Titans to a 22-7 lead at the half.

Rosenfels started the third quarter by throwing an interception, and that set up a sixth Bironas field goal of 43 yards seven plays later. After another three-and-out possession by Houston, Tennessee’s offense again marched downfield on a 12-play, 73-yard drive that ended with RB Chris Henry scoring on a four-yard run. With the score at 32-7, and the Texans’ offense having accumulated only 34 total yards, the game appeared to be a rout.

But as the third quarter wound down, Rosenfels began completing passes and early in the fourth period he completed a seven-yard touchdown throw to WR David Anderson. With a successful two-point conversion on a Rosenfels pass to WR Andre’ Davis, the Tennessee margin was narrowed, if ever so slightly, to 32-15.

Now it was the turn of the Titans to not move the ball. After a 28-yard run by White to start the next possession, Tennessee could go no further and punted. However, Craig Hentrich’s kick pinned the Texans down at their two yard line.

A 53-yard pass completion to Davis was nullified by a penalty, but completions by Rosenfels of 40, 23, and 8 yards to WR Kevin Walter, plus a 15-yard toss to RB Ahman Green, got the ball down the field and set up a six-yard Rosenfels-to-Walter touchdown pass. With the successful PAT, Houston was now only ten points behind at 32-22.

Tennessee went three-and-out on its next possession, but the Titans got a break when Anderson muffed Hentrich’s punt and it was recovered by Tennessee CB Reynaldo Hill at the Houston 33. Five plays later, the Titans were forced to punt again and the Texans took over at their 12 yard line.

With 4:30 left on the clock, Rosenfels immediately went to the air and was intercepted by LB Keith Bulluck. Four plays later, Bironas kicked his record-tying seventh field goal from 29 yards out.

The score was now 35-22 with under four minutes remaining. The Texans advanced from their 25 to the Tennessee 43, converting two third downs along the way, but at the two minute warning faced a fourth-and-five situation. Rosenfels completed a 12-yard pass to TE Owen Daniels to keep the drive alive and then followed up with a 24-yard completion to David Anderson down to the Tennessee seven. On the next play, Rosenfels connected with TE Jeb Putzier for the seven-yard touchdown, and with the extra point the score was 35-29.

Houston successfully executed an onside kick, recovered by LB Zac Diles at his own 34 yard line. Four plays later, Rosenfels completed a 53-yard pass play to Davis for a touchdown, and with Kris Brown’s successful point after, the Texans were ahead, 36-35, capping an amazing comeback.

There were still 56 seconds remaining, however, as the Tennessee offense returned to the field. Collins completed passes of 17 and 46 yards to WR Roydell Williams, and LenDale White’s six-yard run to the Houston 11 set up a last-play 29-yard field goal attempt for Bironas. The kick was successful, the Titans pulled out the 38-36 win, and Rob Bironas set a new single-game record with eight field goals in as many attempts.

Tennessee had 23 first downs to 18 for the Texans and also gained the most total yards with 422 to Houston’s 333. The chief disparity came in rushing yards, as the Titans piled up 155 on 39 carries to the Texans’ 39 on 12 attempts, but that reflected the need for Houston to resort heavily on the passing game in catching up in the second half.

Kerry Collins completed 25 of 42 passes for 280 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions - while he performed capably, the failure to reach the end zone after getting in scoring position set the stage for Bironas to set the field goal mark. LenDale White ran for 104 yards on 27 carries with a TD, while Chris Henry added 57 yards on 11 attempts and a touchdown as well. Roydell Williams gained 124 yards on 5 pass receptions and TE Bo Scaife caught 6 passes for 49 yards. CB Nick Harper intercepted two passes as part of an outstanding day on defense.

In relief of Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels (pictured above) went to the air 35 times and completed 22 of those passes for 290 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions (all four TD passes came in the fourth quarter, which tied an NFL record). Kevin Walter caught 6 passes for 97 yards and a TD to lead the club while Andre’ Davis added four receptions for 88 yards and a score. Ahman Green gained all 39 of Houston’s rushing yards on 11 carries and contributed 5 pass receptions for 32 more.

Tennessee went on to finish the regular season with a 10-6 record to place third in the highly-competitive AFC South and claim the second wild card spot. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to San Diego. Houston was in fourth with an 8-8 tally – it was the franchise’s first non-losing year.

In kicking eight field goals, Rob Bironas doubled his field goal total for the season to date. He also set a record for points scored by kicking only, with 26. The previous record of seven field goals in a game had first been set by Jim Bakken of the Cardinals in 1967 and was tied by Minnesota’s Rich Karlis in 1989, Chris Boniol of the Cowboys in 1996, and Billy Cundiff, also of Dallas, in 2003. Cincinnati’s Shayne Graham kicked seven in a game a few weeks after Boniol set the new mark.

Bironas ended up kicking a league-leading 35 field goals in 39 attempts for an 89.7 % success rate (fifth in the NFL). His 133 points ranked fourth. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro selection and was chosen for the Pro Bowl.