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Mike Vrabel defends 4th-down decision in Titans' loss

A two-play sequence altered the trajectory of Monday night's tussle in Houston.

The Tennessee Titans had the ball at the Houston Texans' 3-yard-line driving to retake the lead early in the second quarter. On fourth-and-1, Mike Vrabel eschewed a field goal attempt that would have cut the deficit to four points and elected to go for it.

The Titans called a hand-off to tight end Luke Stocker who was lined up in front of running back Derrick Henry. In his eighth season, it was Stocker's first career carry. The play was stuffed for no gain. Turnover on downs.

On the very next play, Houston running back Lamar Miller dashed 97 yards for a touchdown to blow open the game.

After the 34-17 loss, Vrabel defended his decision to run the ball with Stocker on fourth down.

"We were just trying to run a belly. It was a play we had seen have some success down there against their goal line in the past," he said. "Like most of the plays we tried to run tonight, we thought we had a chance with. Give them credit. They made a play. Zach (Cunningham) stepped up and made a tackle where I think on film that guy gained the necessary yardage over there where we thought they may be a little light."

Vrabel has intimate knowledge of the Texans team, having spent the previous four seasons in Houston. Whether you agree with going for it in that situation, the play call seemed a bit odd. Not only were you handing it to a player who'd never run before, the blocking left two linebackers dead in the hole to meet him. Also, electing to give it to the up-man in a heavy formation completely took Henry out of the play, which meant the Titans were voluntarily playing 10 on 11.

"I think that if you look at their goal line defense, there's certain plays that we've watched over the past two years and having a lot of good knowledge of what they do on the goal line that like a lot of places, it's tough to run on them, and that's one play that had worked," Vrabel said. "It didn't work tonight and that's not going to be the reason that we lost. That was a bad play. Again, we wouldn't have put something out there that we hadn't seen on film that was successful in that situation."

The play didn't work. Miller blasting for a 97-yard score exacerbated the situation.

Tennessee didn't get closer than 10 points the rest of the night.

Vrabel insisted the sequence wasn't the reason the Titans lost.

"No, I didn't say that play. I didn't say that specific play," he said. "Those helped, those would contribute to it. When you don't score and then give up a long rushing touchdown, those are going to be things again that get you beat. When you don't stop the run, when you don't continue, when you get 15-yard penalties, turn the ball over, those are all the things we try to coach. I've got to coach them better to not do the things to get you beat. You can do the bad things and get away with it. We do a lot of good things, but again, you've got to eliminate the things that get you beat."

The loss plummets the Titans' chances of making the playoffs. At 5-6, Vrabel's team is marred in a muddled AFC postseason picture with five games left. Tennessee needs to go on a streak with winnable games against the Jets, Jaguars and Giants the next three weeks.

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