After offense starts it, defense ends it as Colts finally go back-to-back vs. Titans
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye in the Indianapolis Colts’ 24-17 win over the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. With the majority of the 2006 team on hand to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the win over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI, the Colts evened their record at 5-5 by running their winning streak over the Titans to 11 straight.
Defense seals it: After a stellar start and a mid-game lapse, a much-maligned defense exerted itself.
The Titans trailed by 7 and faced a fourth-and-1 at the Indy 19 with 2:45 remaining, and everyone knew what – or who – was coming.
That would be DeMarco Murray.
“In that formation, absolutely,’’ Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams said.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota handed off to Murray, who headed left. The Colts defensive front got immediate penetration, which kept Murray from cutting inside. When he bounced it outside, he came face-to-face with safety Clayton Geathers.
“It’s man-on-man, body-on-body,’’ said Geather, who tackled Murray for no gain. “Win one more than they do, and that’s one we won.
“I saw everything crash down (inside) and saw him bouncing it out. It was either make the play or don’t make the play. You’ve got to do your job.’’
Consider it a resounding statement by a Colts defense that has endured more ups and than downs this season. It entered the game ranked No. 30 in yards allowed and No. 29 in points, and had failed to hold fourth-quarter leads in losses to Detroit and Houston.
The Mariota-led Titans had averaged 39 points and 444 yards in the previous three games, and had their moments Sunday. They finished with 351 total yards, and smacked the Colts with a 98-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.
But overall, coordinator Ted Monachino’s bunch held up. Murray exited the game with 1,000 yards on the season, but needed 21 carries for 70 yards Sunday. Mariota passed for 290 yards and two TDs, but the Colts got to him for a season-high five sacks and the Titans converted just 6-of-17 third- and fourth-down situations.
Offense starts it: It appears the Colts have solved their slow-start issues. They scored a TD on their opening drive for a second straight game, then kept going. The first three drives led by Andrew Luck: Robert Turbin’s 1-yard run and 2-yard TD passes from Luck to Donte Moncrief and T.Y. Hilton. It was the first time they opened a game with three TD drives since Dec. 17, 2009 against Jacksonville.
Barely 4 minutes into the second quarter and the Colts had a 21-0 lead.
Luck misfired on his first pass of the day, then hit 12 straight for 186 yards and the short TDs to Moncrief and Hilton. At halftime, he was 12-of-16 for 186 yards and a 152.6 passer rating, and the Colts had piled up 250 yards.
“Yeah, the start was great, obviously,’’ Luck said. “We need to learn how to sustain that start. We have a chance to put a team away per se, put a good team away, we have to. Teams are too good in this league to not be ruthless.’’
Little went right for the Colts after the break as the offensive line developed leakage issues. Luck was 3-of-12 for 81 yards in the final two quarters and suffered what could have been a turning-point interception when he tried to squeeze a pass to Hilton midway through the fourth quarter.
Luck’s assessment of the interception: “Two things – bad decision, bad throw and those together lead to bad plays.’’
The defense and Geathers cleaned up the mess by stuffing the Titans on fourth-and-1.
Luck and Hilton then sealed the deal – just as they did in the last game at Green Bay – by converting a third-and-5 from the Indy 24 with 2:35 to play. Luck rolled to his right and drifted up in the pocket to avoid pressure, then delivered an 11-yard strike to Hilton.
“T.Y. finds himself always in the big situations and making those plays,’’ Luck said, who hit Hilton with a 27-yarder on third-and-2 to seal the 31-26 win over the Packers.
All that remained were three kneel-downs by Luck.
Back-to-back, finally: The Colts remained relevant in the AFC South and the playoff chase by winning back-to-back games for the first time this season. At 5-5, they’re still chasing Houston, which takes a 6-3 record against Oakland Monday night in Mexico City. The Titans fell to 5-6.
“Huge. We haven’t done it,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said of the mini-streak. “It has been a long time. We are growing on the run and we are as healthy as we have been.
“We just have to find a way to keep the momentum going. It’s going to be damn hard, but we will prepare and be ready to go by Thursday.’’
Short week: Yes, the Colts have little time to enjoy the win over the Titans. They’re back at Lucas Oil Stadium Thanksgiving night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Isn’t that cool?’’ Luck asked of Thursday’s prime-time match-up. “I think that’s probably every little boy’s dream to play a real game on Thanksgiving.’’
Of course, the Colts hope a recent trend ends.
“We all know the last few times we’ve faced Pittsburgh it’s been embarrassing,’’ linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said.
The past two seasons, the Steelers have rolled to 51-34 and 45-10 routs in Pittsburgh. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has used the Colts defense for target practice. His two-game totals: 64-of-88, 886 yards, 10 TDs, 0 interceptions, a 142.5 passer rating.
Streak ends: Adam Vinatieri is human after all. The veteran placekicker saw his NFL-record streak of 44 made field goals end when he pushed a 42-yard attempt wide right in the second quarter. It was his first miss since week 2 of last season.
“Didn’t follow through,’’ Vinatieri said. “Shouldn’t have missed it, but I did. Stupid.’’
He started a new streak in the fourth quarter by knocking down a 49-yard attempt.
“Yeah,’’ Vinatieri smiled, “one in a row.’’
More wildcat: Offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski continued to use every page of his playbook, including the one that has variations of the ‘wildcat’ formation.
Having running back Frank Gore take a direct snap from center Ryan Kelly for a second straight game, Chudzinski opted for some razzle dazzle in the second quarter. Gore took the snap and pitched the football to Luck, who had gone in motion to the right.
That’s when things got interesting. Luck was supposed to deliver a deep pass to Hilton, but improvised when Hilton was covered. The result: a 49-yard completion to Gore, who had leaked into the left flats and was wide open.
“It wasn’t how we drew it up,’’ Luck said. “It was supposed to go deep to T.Y. The second outlet was Donte. Frank has the uncanny ability to play football in this league and react to things the right way.
“He reacted and somehow my eyes found him. I was looking to throw it away, honestly, and he just happened to be there.’’