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A Look Around The AFC South

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A Look Around The AFC South: 11.27.18

Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller (26) runs for a 97-yard touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans wanted to honor their late owner and founder Robert "Bob" McNair, who died last week at age 81.

They knew the perfect way to do that Monday night was to keep their winning streak going.

Deshaun Watson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Texans set a franchise record with their eighth straight victory, 34-17 over the Tennessee Titans.

"The one thing Mr. McNair wanted was a winner," J.J. Watt said. "All he wanted was a winner. He wanted to win every week. He wanted a team that could win and bring a championship to this city. So to be able to win eight straight and to be able to win tonight for him was good, and we're going to try to keep doing that for him."

Demaryius Thomas scored his first two touchdowns with Houston and Lamar Miller ran for 162 yards, including a 97-yard TD.

The Texans (8-3) also saluted McNair by wearing decals in the shape of a football with white block letters bearing his initials of "RCM." With that tribute on the back of their helmets, they became the first team in NFL history to win eight games in a row after starting 0-3. They lead the AFC South by two games over Indianapolis.

"We need to try and keep getting better," coach Bill O'Brien said. "We need to take the mantra that we're going to improve every day."

The Texans trailed by 10 early before reeling off 27 straight points.

Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins said there was no panic after the team fell behind in the first quarter.

"We've been down 0-3 as a record, so being down 10-0 on the board is nothing to this team," he said.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars sacked offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Blake Bortles one day after the team's seventh consecutive loss.

Coach Doug Marrone fired Hackett and benched Bortles on Monday, making sweeping changes to one of the league's worst offenses.

"I felt I needed to make a change to get us an opportunity to win some games," Marrone said. "It's not a knee-jerk reaction. I really feel like at the end of the day we've got to try to get better production out of our passing game or more consistent production in our passing game."

Marrone promoted quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich to play-caller and backup quarterback Cody Kessler.

Milanovich spent five seasons (2012-16) as head coach for the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts before landing in Jacksonville last year. Kessler lost all eight starts for Cleveland in 2016.

Marrone expects Milanovich and Kessler to energize a lackluster offense when the Jaguars (3-8) host Indianapolis (6-5) on Sunday.

"Hopefully he can stay healthy and win some games for us," Marrone said. "My plan is for him to go in there and play."

Staying healthy could be a challenge for Kessler considering Jacksonville will be without three starting offensive linemen, including left guard Andrew Norwell (ankle) who was placed on injured reserve Monday. Norwell joins center Brandon Linder and left tackle Cam Robinson on IR.

The Jags also could be without running back Leonard Fournette, who was suspended one game without pay for leaving the sideline, running across the field and throwing punches at Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson .

Fournette has three days to appeal.

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Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans were down by four with the ball on the 3-yard line in the second quarter Monday night against the Houston Texans when coach Mike Vrabel chose to go for it on fourth-and-inches.

Tight end Luke Stocker took the handoff and was immediately met by Zach Cunningham and Bernardrick McKinney and stopped for no gain. Lamar Miller ran 97 yards for a touchdown on the next play to make it 21-10, and the Texans went on to a 34-17 win.

"If you look at their goal-line defense and having a lot of good knowledge of what they do on the goal line, that's one play that had worked," Vrabel said. "It didn't work tonight and that's not the reason that we lost. That's a bad play."

Vrabel spent a good part of his postgame news conference fielding questions about the play and why he chose to hand the ball to Stocker, an eight-year veteran who had zero carries entering the game. In fact, Stocker said after the game that the last time he remembered carrying the ball was in high school.

"I'd like to have that back and have a chance to go lower or dive or reach the ball out or something," he said. "That's on me. I've got to figure out a way to convert that."

Some wondered why Vrabel didn't give the ball to 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back Derrick Henry in that situation.

"That's something we've repped in practice," Vrabel said about using Stocker. "Just having watched that play be successful against their goal-line look, we felt good about it."

The fact that Tennessee's defense allowed the huge run by Miller seconds after the failed fourth-down attempt was just another disappointment for the Titans.

"Runs like that can't happen," cornerback Logan Ryan said. "They shouldn't happen, but it did. We've got to learn from it."

Marcus Mariota, who missed the second half of last week's game with 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.

Vrabel couldn't celebrate Mariota's effectiveness on a night when the Titans allowed the Texans to set a franchise record with 281 yards rushing, led by 162 from Miller.

"The stats are the stats," Vrabel said when asked about Mariota's completion percentage. "The loss is really what I'm going to try to focus on. We've got to stop the run. There's a lot of things other than guys' individual stats that we're trying to concentrate on."

The Titans (5-6) have lost two straight to drop into third place in the AFC South behind first-place Houston (8-3) and Indianapolis (6-5).

"We've got to stick together and we've got to go win," Vrabel said. "We're going to get as prepared as we can and we've got to go out and play. We just didn't get it done tonight."

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