Their feisty duel exploded into a full-blown fistfight late in the Texans' 20-0 win over the Titans on Sunday. Both players were ejected, and the ugly incident could lead to further discipline from the NFL.
"He kept doing little things and I told him: 'Just because you're frustrated, you need to stop what you're doing,"' Johnson said. "I guess he thought it was funny."
The usually soft-spoken Johnson caught nine passes and a touchdown before walking off the field to a standing ovation. "It's just a buildup of things over plays," Johnson said. "I just lost my cool."
Finnegan did not speak to reporters after the game. "It's not good for the game, no," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee. "You don't want to see that stuff."
Arian Foster rushed for 143 yards and also caught nine passes for the Texans (5-6), who were on their way to their first shutout since 2004 when Johnson and Finnegan began slugging it out midway through the fourth quarter.
The two got into a milder shoving match on the previous play, with Johnson giving Finnegan a shot in the back before Finnegan took off his helmet and walked away.
Finnegan then set off the brawl by jabbing at Johnson's neck and face mask at the line of scrimmage. Johnson ripped off Finnegan's helmet and landed at least two punches to Finnegan's head and neck. The two spun each other, and Finnegan tore off Johnson's helmet before players and referees intervened.
"I awarded it to Andre on points," Texans owner Bob McNair joked.
This was Round 2 between Johnson and Finnegan. Last season, Johnson was fined $7,500 for taking Finnegan to the ground by the face mask during a scuffle after a play in a 34-31 Texans win.
Johnson said this week: "That's the past, I'm over that. That's way behind me, I don't think about that." But Finnegan got under his skin again, and Johnson was apologetic after the game. "I wish that I could take back what happened, but I can't," Johnson said. "I'm pretty sure I'll be disciplined for it."
Houston plays at Philadelphia on Thursday night.
The incident, meanwhile, came at the end of a tumultuous week for the Titans (5-6), who've lost four in a row.
Houston cornerback Glover Quin set a franchise record with three interceptions off Titans rookie quarterback Rusty Smith, who struggled in his first career start.
Smith replaced Houston native Vince Young, who argued with Fisher after he was taken out of last week's loss to Washington with a thumb injury. Young was placed on injured reserve and apologized to Fisher via text message. Young did not join his team for Sunday's game.
Smith completed 17 of 31 passes for 138 yards and a 26.7 passer rating.
"I wish I could have some of those throws back," Smith said. "You can't get them back."
Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was on the sideline calling plays after he was diagnosed with cancer this week. He's due to start chemotherapy Monday.
The drama with Young and Heimerdinger overshadowed the matchup of the two top rushers in the AFC, Foster and Chris Johnson. It was a mismatch: Foster set a Texans record with his sixth 100-yard game of the season, while Johnson managed a career-low 5 yards on seven carries.
"We weren't able to run the ball at all," Johnson said. "I don't know why we couldn't run it."
The Texans, with the league's 31st-ranked defense, had not held an opponent to fewer than 24 points all season. They dominated from the start Sunday, limiting the Titans to 12 yards and no first downs in the first quarter.
Quin got his first career interception on the first play of the second quarter, a much-needed confidence boost for the second-year cornerback. Quin batted a last-second desperation pass into the hands of receiver Mike Thomas for the winning score in a 31-24 loss at Jacksonville two weeks ago.
Schaub threw touchdown passes to tight end Joel Dreessen and Andre Johnson in the second quarter. Schaub completed 25 of 35 passes for 178 yards in the game.
Neil Rackers kicked a 36-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright for a 17-0 lead in the third quarter, and the Titans' offense was no better in the second half. Tennessee got to the Houston 12 when safety Bernard Pollard was whistled for pass interference. Quin then intercepted Smith's pass near the goal line.
Foster ran 37 yards down the sideline, and the Titans were flagged for a personal foul after the play, tacking on another 15 yards. A few plays later, the individual battle between Johnson and Finnegan boiled over.
Notes: Andre Johnson became the first player to make 60 receptions in each of his first eight seasons. Houston coach Gary Kubiak awarded Johnson the game ball for the accomplishment - not for the fight. ... Titans K Rob Bironas had his franchise record streak of consecutive games with a field goal snapped at 20. ... Titans WR Randy Moss caught three receptions to reach 952 for his career and pass Andre Reed for eighth all-time.