Colts Squeak Out Win Against Division-Rival Titans
In a season marked with unbelievable ups and downs, from winning decisively to losing in heartbreaking fashion, the unpredictability that is the Indianapolis Colts has always been evident, but on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, it was a roller coaster ride unlike any that Colts fan have experienced so far, and it was capped by a 24-17 Colts victory.
It was fireworks right out the gate. After an opening three-and-out by the defense, Andrew Luck and the offense found their rhythm early, driving down the field 64 yards on eight plays and scoring on a perfectly-executed 1-yard run by Robert Turbin. After a second consecutive three-and-out by the Titans offense, the Colts added to their early lead when Donte Moncrief found the end zone on a 2-yard pass from Luck. The touchdown opportunity was created two plays earlier when Luck connected with Frank Gore on a 49-yard pass to put the Colts deep into Tennessee territory. While a 49-yard reception is impressive enough, it began as a direct snap to Gore who tossed the ball back to his quarterback, who found him streaking down the left side of the field to give their team great field position. As great as it looked, the play did not end the way it was intended to, according to Luck.
"It wasn't how we drew it up. It's supposed to go deep to T.Y. [Hilton] and the second outlet was Donte [Moncrief]. Frank reacted well and somehow my eyes found him. I was sort of looking to throw it away and he just happened to be there and I found him."
The Colts weren't done there. In the early minutes of the second quarter, Hilton managed to catch a pass that looked clearly intercepted. Somehow, the veteran receiver grabbed the ball just outside the end zone, made a sharp turn, and marched two yards passed two Tennessee defenders to give Indianapolis a three-touchdown lead. It was 21-0 with just over a quarter of football played, and the Colts were looking like a true Super Bowl contender, ironically enough in front of the 2006 championship Colts team who won the Super Bowl that were being honored at halftime. Confidence was oozing from the team, evident on the ensuing Tennessee drive. After two big completions to Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker, the defense found the groove they had been playing with all game, as Erik Walden and David Parry sacked Marcus Mariota on consecutive plays, forcing the Titans to punt once again, giving the Colts a chance to close the game out before halftime.
Unable to score a touchdown on their fourth consecutive drive of the game, the Colts turned to Adam Vinatieri, referred to as "Mr. Automatic" as he walked on the field by play-by-play announcer Spero Dedes, to add onto the growing lead. Vinatieri, who had not missed a field goal in 44 straight attempts, lined up for a 42-yard goal that seemed like a walk in the park for him. Perhaps jinxed by the praise of the broadcaster, the veteran kicker missed his first kick in forever, and for the first time in the game, the Titans were alive.
It was a stunning turn of events, and while the Colts tried to catch themselves, the Titans rolled with their newly-acquired momentum, and drove the ball down field 68 yards on 12 plays, capped off by a DeMarco Murray touchdown reception with under two minutes to play in the half. The momentum carried over into the second half on their opening drive, resulting in a 98-yard drive finished off perfectly when Mariota found Tajae Sharp on a 34-yard pass to put the Titans within seven points. The 21-point lead had evaporated, and the Colts had no way to stop the bleeding. A second 90-yard drive for the Titans followed the Sharpe touchdown, resulting in a field goal to cut the lead to four points. After a Vinatieri field goal put the Colts back ahead seven points, followed by a defensive stop, it was the perfect opportunity for the Colts offense to seal the game then and there.
They didn't. On the first play of the drive, Luck was picked off by Brice McCain, giving the Titans one final opportunity to tie the game near mid-field. It was a poor decision on Luck's part, and suddenly, the Colts were right back in a position that they've been in many times before: needing one more stop to win the game. It came down to a 4th-and-1, and as Murray grabbed the ball and rushed for the first down marker, he was met by the heavy-hitting Clayton Geathers who stopped him inches short of the first down, and ending any hope of a Titans comeback. The hit by Geathers was enough to nudge the ball out of Murray's hands. However, Murray was clearly down before the ball had left his hands.
"These guys know it's going to take 60 minutes, [to win a game]" said Chuck Pagano after the game. "There's going to be some ebbs and flows through the course of the game, some ups and downs, and you don't ride those. You keep playing and keep playing and keep playing, and again, we found a way to finish this one.
The Colts jump right back on the ride on Thanksgiving against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh has been a tough opponent for the Colts in recent meetings, and this type of up and down play will not work against the Steelers, who have Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell waiting to carve up a vulnerable Indianapolis defense. Despite the daunting task that faces them in the near future, coach Pagano assured his team will be ready.
"We'll be right back at it in the morning and try and get those guys in there and get ourselves prepared for another home game on Thanksgiving."
Jeff Tibbins covers the Indianapolis Colts for Pro Football Spot. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jeff_tibbins.
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