INDIANAPOLIS – The overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans decided nothing.
Not the AFC South. Not one of three AFC wild-card berths.
But it determined the Indianapolis Colts must climb a steep hill to achieve either objective.
“That was playoff football,’’ cornerback Kenny Moore said after the Colts’ 34-31 overtime loss. “That’s the type of environment that we all strive to play for, play into.
“We knew what was at stake. We knew the AFC South – that was the game, and we lost.’’
Added linebacker Darius Leonard: “It sucks. You know, a division game that we feel like we could have won, and it sucks. You put everything in this game. You sacrifice so much that you come out and lose this game.
“It hurts and it sucks.’’
The Titans moved to 6-2 with a fourth straight win while the Colts slipped to 3-5. That amounts to a four-game lead with nine to play in pursuit of the AFC South title since Tennessee holds the tiebreaker based on sweeping the Colts.
A wild-card berth remains very much in play for the Colts, but only if they find a way to beat upper-echelon teams. They’ve now lost eight straight games against teams that reached the 2020 playoffs, including five this season.
Frank Reich wouldn’t delve too much into playoff possibilities, in part because the Colts have a quick turnaround with a Thursday night meeting with the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I probably don’t think like that,’’ he said. “I’m probably not thinking anything slipped through our fingers. I understand it’s a really big hole to come back and win the division.
“The odds are really stacked against us, but I’m just not wired to think like that. The way I am wired and the way our team is wired is we got a game on Thursday night. We have to come back. I’ve got to get better as a coach. We have to get better playing and get ready for a game on Thursday night.’’
While the division is nearly out of reach, a wild-card berth isn’t in the convoluted AFC.
The Titans (6-2), Buffalo (5-2), Baltimore (5-2) and Las Vegas (5-2) lead their respective divisions, but it’s a mess behind them: Cincinnati (5-3 after a 34-31 loss to the one-win Jets), the Los Angeles Chargers (4-3), Pittsburgh (4-3), New England (4-4), Cleveland (4-4), Denver (4-4), Kansas City (3-4) and the Colts (3-5).
Still ahead for the Colts: Nov. 21 at Buffalo, home against Tampa Bay Nov. 28, at Arizona Dec. 25 and home against the Raiders Jan. 2.
Big play, big injury for Lewis
Defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis was in the midst of an impactful game with 1 sack, another quarterback hit and his first NFL interception.
But that interception might have been the last play of Lewis’ fourth season. After snaring a Ryan Tannehill pass, Lewis headed upfield only to stumble, fall and lose control of the football, which the Titans recovered. He injured a knee in the process.
After Lewis remained on the field for a few minutes, a cart was brought out to take him into the locker room.
If the injury is season-ending, the timing is hardly ideal for Lewis. The 2018 second-round draft pick is in the final year of his rookie contract.
The Colts entered the game as healthy as they’ve been all season.
They didn’t exit that way.
Along with losing Lewis to the knee injury, wideout T.Y. Hilton left the game midway through the fourth quarter with a concussion and safety Khari Willis suffered a calf injury in the first half and did not return.
The Colts on Monday ruled Hilton out for Thursday’s matchup with the New York Jets. He returned Sunday after missing last week’s game against San Francisco with a quadriceps injury. He missed the first five games after underdoing neck surgery during the preseason.
It yielded 340 total yards and watched the Titans convert 10-of-19 times on third/fourth down, but the defense had a few bright spots.
Most impressive, the defense limited league rushing leader Derrick Henry to 68 yards on 28 carries with a long of 9. He entered the game with four straight 100-yard games against Indy.
Moore and Lewis came up with interceptions, pushing the Colts’ season total to 18 takeaways. It’s had at least one takeaway in nine straight games, the NFL’s second-longest active streak.
Also, Lewis, DeForest Buckner and Kemoko Turay each had 1 sack of Tannehill.
Run it enough?
Reich wanted to take a deep breath and review the video before commenting on the Colts’ offensive imbalance: 51 Carson Wentz pass attempts, just 17 rushes by backs, including 16 by Jonathan Taylor.
While 16 handoffs to Taylor is never enough, it must be noted he had two huge gains in the second quarter wiped out by penalties. A 20-yarder was erased by a holding penalty against right tackle Braden Smith and a 32-yarder was called back by a hold against right guard Chris Reed.
Also contributing to the imbalance were a pair of pass-heavy drives at the end of each half. Wentz attempted nine passes on a 13-play drive at the end of the first half that resulted in Michael Badgley’s 34-yard field goal.
And on the drive following his pick-6 interception to Elijah Molden with 1:26 remaining in regulation, four of the five plays were Wentz passes.
Still, 16 attempts for Taylor seems a bit light.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.