What we saw: Colts’ ‘other guys’ came up big
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – What we saw in the Indianapolis Colts’ 34-26 win over the Tennessee Titans Sunday in Nissan Stadium. It marked the seventh consecutive week the game has been decided in the final 2 minutes.
Who were those guys? The pre-game inactive list was clogged with seven injured players, five front-line players. When offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinki went with a three-tight end formation – and he did more than once – Jack Doyle was joined by Erik Swoope and Chase Coffman. That would be the Chase Coffman who was signed off the street Tuesday. T.Y. Hilton’s supporting cast included Chester Rogers and Devin Street, the latter seeing his first action with the offense since being signed off the Patriots practice squad in September. Rookie Joe Haeg started at a third position, this time at left guard.
And: Colts 34, Titans 26.
“That’s the beauty of it, and that was Chuck’s message all week,’’ Luck said. “Just do your job, do your part to help this team win.’’
Doyle, the featured tight end with Dwayne Allen out, had a career game: 9 catches, 78 yards, a 7-yard touchdown with 1:55 that gave the Colts a 34-23 lead. For perspective on Doyle’s performance, consider he 12 catches for 72 yards and one TD in 2015.
Street suffered a third-down drop that stalled a third-quarter possession, then came back with a critical 20-yard reception on third-and-13 that kept the Doyle TD drive alive.
Swoope added two catches for a career-high 51 yards.
The defense was responsible for giving the Colts an 11-point lead with 1:47 remaining. T.Y. McGill burst through the Titans offensive line for a sack and strip of Marcus Mariota, and Robert Mathis returned the fumble 14 yards for a touchdown.
McGill had been inactive in three of the four previous games.
“That’s the name of the game,’’ McGill said. “You’ve got to make plays in order to win.’’
Haeg, who had previous starts at right tackle and right guard, was part of an offensive line that might have had its best game of the season. Luck was sacked twice, but he had enough to shred Tennessee’s defense for 353 yards, three TDs and a 123.1 passer rating.
Pivotal win: It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the victory. By extending their mastery of the Titans – it’s 10 straight and 15 of 16 in the series – the Colts pulled into a second-place tie with Tennessee in the AFC South at 3-4. Front-runner Houston (4-2) has a road test at Denver Monday night.
Had the Colts returned home 2-5, their season could have completely unraveled.
“It was kind of a sink-or-swim type of game,’’ Mathis said. “We chose to swim.’’
Conversely, the Titans sank. And it stung as Luck orchestrated the 17th game-winning drive of his career. Four have come against Tennessee. Luck is 8-0 against Tennessee, including 5-0 in Nashville.
“I’m pissed,’’ said defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, whose USC Trojans routinely failed when facing Luck and Stanford. “Really at a loss for words right now.
“That makes 10 in a row to lose to the Colts, and me personally, I’ve been losing to this guy since college.
“It hurts me deeply.’’
Third-down issues until . . . Third down is the money down in the NFL. It’s critical for offenses to convert and stay on the field, and Priority 1 for defenses to come up with stops and get off the field.
For much of the game, the Titans dominated the money down. Their offense converted 9-of-15 times, and a couple were ridiculous. On one drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters, Mariota converted a third-and-15 with a 16-yard completion to Tajae Sharpe and a third-and-19 with a 20-yard pass to Rishard Matthews.
The Colts, meanwhile, converted just one of their first eight third-down situations. Then, they cashed in and finished 4-of-10.
The drive that ended with Doyle’s 7-yard TD catch consisted of 12 plays and covered 70 yards. The key plays? Street’s 20-yard catch on third-and-13 and Doyle’s TD on third-and-goal at the 7.
Luck insisted it didn’t feel as if the Colts had struggled on third down, but conceded, “in crunch time it’s who’s going to make the play, and we managed to make the plays.’’
Mistakes aplenty: It’s not a stretch to say the Colts won in spite of themselves.
Imagine the level of Luck’s game had his receivers not dropped five or six passes. We’re not certain whether Doyle’s inability to corral a pass in the end zone in the second quarter was a drop of a high, hard one from Luck that was too hot to grab.
And the Colts were penalized 12 times for 131 yards, both season highs. Josh McNary’s personal foul in the third quarter negated Patrick Robinson’s interception and was one of three defensive penalties on the same possession.
The Colts had a league-high seven defensive pass interference penalties entering the game. They added four more.
This and that: Hilton finished with seven catches for 133 yards and one TD. He reached the 5,000-yard mark for his career and became the second-fastest Colt to reach that level, doing so in his 69th game. Marvin Harrison accomplished that feat in 68 games. Hilton also tied Harrison for the most 100-yard games (21) by a Colt in his first five seasons. . . . The Colts defense yielded 107 yards to DeMarco Murray. It marked the first time since 2010 it has allowed a 100-yard rusher in three straight games. . . . Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was credited with a team-high nine tackles. Erik Walden had one of the three sacks of Mariota, upping his season total to five.