By KRISTIE RIEKEN
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.
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 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.
Miller’s 97-yard breakaway in the second quarter made it 21-10. It was the longest run in franchise history and the longest in the NFL since his dash of the same length for a touchdown on Dec. 28, 2014, with the Dolphins. He’s 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.
“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,” Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel said. “It didn’t work tonight and that’s not the reason that we lost. That’s a bad play.”
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.
“My whole mindset is just, don’t get caught,” Miller said. “Because … when we played the Dolphins, I got caught, so all the guys were giving me a hard time. So that was the only thing on my mind.”
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. One read: “McNair Never Forgotten.”
Watson has thrown 39 touchdown passes in his first 18 career games, which is third in NFL history behind Hall of Famers Kurt Warner (44) and Dan Marino (40). His 70 yards rushing on Monday were a career best and he tied Matt Schaub’s franchise record by throwing a TD pass in his 16th straight game.
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.