NASHVILLE - Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak didn't need many words to sum up his team's 24-10 home loss to Houston on Sunday afternoon.
"Tough loss, frustrating loss," he said of a defeat that included six Titans turnovers. "I guess that's why we're 4 and 8."
There are a lot of reasons why the Titans are 4-8 with but four games to play. And despite those six offensive turnovers (3 fumbles, 3 interceptions) -- and the fact they fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer this past week and replaced him with Dowell Loggains -- the majority of their problems have come on defense.
Especially in the first period, where the Titans have given up the most points in the NFL this season (124). Playing to form against the Texans, Tennessee trailed 14-3 after one quarter.
"To put a performance out there like that is very frustrating," said running back Chris Johnson, who finished with 51 rushing yards and a fumble. Nor did he think Loggains' playbook had much of an impact.
"Basically, it's the same plays," he said.
After throwing three intereptions and fumbling twice, Titans second-year quarterback Jake Locker mildly disagreed.
"It wasn't like a whole new playbook we were getting," he said. "But there were differences."
Down 21-3 at intermission after losing 38-14 at Texas on Sept. 30, the Titans finally showed some difference in effort and execution in the final half.
They not only pulled within the final score on a 34-yard TD tos from Locker to Kenny Britt late in the third period, they reached the Houston 7 on their next possession before Locker fumbled on fourth down.
"Players eventually have to make plays," said Munchak. "That's one reason why Houston's 11-1 right now. They find ways to get it done."
Defense is the main reason the Texans remain tied with Atlanta for the best record in the NFL. Of the league's 32 teams, Houston ranks in the top 10 in 12 of 18 defensive statistical categories, including first in third-down conversions, second in rushing yards allowed (87.5) and third in both first downs allowed (17 percent) and point differential (10.5).
"That's why this defense is so fun, that's why this team is so fun --everybody makes plays," said Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt, whose lone sack gave him 15.5 for the season.
"They've got a young quarterback [Locker], and he's going to be a heck of a player, but today we kind of got after him and frustrated him a little bit, and that was our goal."
It figures to get more frustrating for the Titans going forward, since they're all but certain to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
There remain winnable home games against the New York Jets (Monday, Dec. 17) and Jacksonville (Dec. 30), but the road games at surprising Indianapolis and Green Bay figure to be tough. To make things even rougher, starting offensive lineman David "Country" Stewart lost for the season with a broken leg.
"These guys aren't going to quit," Munchak said. "They believe in each other, they believe in what we're doing ... It's frustrating that we're in this position, it's our own doing."
Now the question becomes whether or not they know what to do to change it.