Titans Overcome Eight-Point Second-Half Deficit to Take Control of AFC South
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – They were gritty, gutty and at times, very efficient.
And for nearly three quarters of their nationally-televised AFC South showdown on Monday night, with the Colts playing to keep their division-title hopes alive, that was enough.
Then, the Tennessee Titans did what they have done all season.
They made clutch plays. They forced crucial turnovers. They controlled clock.
By doing so, they won the game.
And because they did, they took firm control of the division.
The Titans (7-0), the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team, rallied from deficits of 7-3 and 14-6 with a solid, efficient final 21 minutes, scoring 25 consecutive points en route to a 31-21 victory over Indianapolis (3-4) in front of 69,143 at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday.
"It was a disappointing game from our standpoint," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said after the Colts lost consecutive October games for the first time in four seasons.
"We went into the fourth quarter with a chance to make some plays to win the ball game, and when that happened – when that time came – they made them all."
The Colts, after taking a 14-6 lead early in the third quarter, allowed four consecutive second-half scoring drives – including three in the fourth quarter – and failed to convert critical fourth downs on back-to-back second-half drives.
The Titans turned the fourth-down stops into 10 points and a 24-14 lead, and after safety Chris Hope's second interception of the game with just under four minutes remaining, rookie running back Chris Johnson's 16-yard touchdown run gave the Titans a 31-14 lead.
"I think they just made the plays when they had to in the fourth quarter," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "Their defense stepped up. They had a couple of key interceptions, got the ball back and their offense converted."
With the victory, the Titans took a four-game lead over the Colts, Jacksonville (3-4) and Houston (3-4). The Titans also have victories over the other three AFC South teams.
The Colts have won the last five division titles, and have made six consecutive postseason appearances.
The Colts will play host to AFC East-leading New England (5-2) on Sunday night.
"It's kind of like we said early in the week," Dungy said. "It's going to make it doubtful for us to win the division, but we'll see what the last nine games bring. If we play well and get ourselves on a streak and get going, we can be a playoff team. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen as we've seen in two of the last three years.
"It's disappointing, but we have to get over it fast. We have a tough game in six days. In the grand scheme of things, it probably means the division title is probably going to be tough to do, but I think we still have a lot in front of us."
For the Colts, it was their second consecutive double-digit road loss. They lost to Green Bay, 34-14, in Green Bay, Wis., a week ago.
The loss also moved the Colts under .500 in October for the first time since 2001, the season before Dungy's arrival. They have made the playoffs every season during Dungy's tenure.
"We're just sort of dealing with the present right now," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who completed 26 of 41 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. "It's a disappointing loss, a division loss. We have a short week playing an excellent team next week. We'll try to bounce back with a win next week."
And after a 19-yard touchdown pass from Manning to tight end Dallas Clark 3:54 into the second half, the Titans – who have won all season with an efficient, run-oriented offense and a dominant defense – took over momentum, scoring on their next four possessions:
• A 1-yard run by running back LenDale White and a two-point conversion. That made it 14-14. At that time, 3:21 remained in the third quarter.
• A 48-yard field goal by Rob Bironas. That made it 17-14 with 14:45 remaining.
• A 1-yard run by White. That made it 24-14 with 4:37 remaining.
• A 16-yard run by Chris Johnson. That made 31-14 with 3:31 remaining.
"There's still a lot of football left," Brackett said. "There are still a lot of games left in the season. We just have to go back next week at home, against another AFC opponent, and try to get a victory.
"There's a little difference between winning that game and losing that game. We're going to stick together, obviously, and we just have to make those plays when we have to. It's three or four plays in a game that really could turn this thing around. We just happened to be on the opposite end of those plays."
The Titans took an early lead, driving 40 yards on the game's first possession, a drive that ended with a 34-yard field goal by Bironas.
Two possessions later, after a short punt, the Colts took over at the Titans 37. Four plays later, the Colts took a 7-3 lead on a 10-yard pass from Manning to Clark.
The Titans cut the lead to 7-6 with a 44-yard field goal by Bironas with 14:14 remaining in the second quarter. The play capped a nine-play, 40-yard drive.
Later in the quarter, after an interception by safety Chris Hope gave Tennessee possession at the Colts 47, Bironas missed a 43-yard attempt wide left. It was Bironas' first miss of the season.
Manning completed 11 of 17 first-half passes for 104 yards and a touchdown with an interception. The Colts held Tennessee – which rushed for a franchise-record 332 yards a week before – to 46 yards rushing on 15 first-half carries.
The Colts held the Titans, the NFL's fourth-ranked rushing offense, to 88 yards on 31 carries.
"I think we played hard," Brackett said. "I think our front four really stepped up today and did a good job as far the run defense. Those guys really set the tone for us early in the game. We didn't make the plays when we had to and they did."
The Colts took an eight-point lead on the first possession of the second half, driving 64 yards on nine plays and scoring on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Clark.
On the ensuing possession, the Titans drove 80 yards on 14 plays, scoring on a 1-yard run by White. Titans quarterback Kerry Collins passed for the two-point conversion to fullback Ahmard Hall to tie it, 14-14, with 3:21 remaining in the quarter.
Until recovering an onside kick attempt with just over a minute remaining and kneeling out the clock, Tennessee never had a possession on which it didn't score thereafter.
"You have to give them a lot of credit," Dungy said. "They have a good team. They're playing with confidence. They complement each other well. We played really high energy tonight, but didn't play well enough to win.
"We have a lot of guys who have been there, and they understand where we are right now. We're not going to be able to afford to lose too many more. You have to get yourself on a winning streak. You have to start playing well consistently for four quarters week after week after week.
"That's what we have to fight to do. We have guys in that room that can do it."
Said Brackett, "It is what it is. They played a good game, and next week we have to go out there and work hard and get a victory."