NASHVILLE – Running back Nyheim Hines felt his head go a different direction than his body when Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons grabbed his face mask on a first-and-10 at the Tennessee 26-yard line early in the second quarter.
No flag was thrown, and head coach Frank Reich was left to argue his case with an official before second-and-12.
The next playcall got in later than normal to quarterback Matt Ryan, who got to the line, saw the Titans were showing blitz – but didn't have time to check out of the play into something else. Ryan took the snap, and with a free rusher accelerating toward him, he flicked a pass toward wide receiver Parris Campbell.
Titans defensive back Andrew Adams stepped in front of the throw, caught it and ran it back for a 76-yard pick six – Tennessee's only touchdown in their 19-10 win over the Colts on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
In a tight divisional game, a handful of plays swung the win to the Titans. And none were bigger than Adams' pick-six.
"I didn't help in that," Reich said.
"You can't make a bad play worse," Ryan said, similarly taking accountability. "You gotta find a way to dirt it and move on from it."
"Can't complain about the refs," Hines said. "We gotta go play."
The Colts out-gained the Titans, 292 yards to 254 yards, and felt like they were able to move the ball well at times on Sunday. But consecutive drives that ended with an interception in Titans territory – first the pick-six, then one snagged by linebacker David Long Jr. on the Titans' 34-yard line on the Colts' next possession – thrust the Colts into a 13-0 hole at halftime against a Mike Vrabel-coached team well-suited to hold onto leads.
"You just never feel like you can get out of the water," wide receiver Parris Campbell said. "It just feels like you're almost drowning when you're playing catch-up the whole game. I felt like there were times in this game where we were rolling, we were putting together long drives, then it would just be a self-inflicted wound. As an offense we just gotta get better."
Making matters even more frustrating for the Colts was how well they know their offense can operate when it doesn't sustain self-inflicted wounds. The Colts didn't turn the ball over against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6 and scored 34 points – and that was just seven days ago.
"We've got to find a way to eliminate some of those as we move forward," Ryan said. "Because if we do, when we've done that we've played very well."
The Colts' defense kept the Titans out of the end zone despite Tennessee – which entered Week 7 with the best red zone offense in the NFL – getting inside the 20 twice. Derrick Henry's efficiency was good, but not great – he averaged 4.3 yards per carry and was limited to only three explosive runs of 10 or more yards.
"Offensively, we have to be better," Hines said. "We let the defense down — defense played great today and we played well enough to win except for the turnover category and executing at the end. We just gotta be better."
Still, the Colts' defense wasn't satisfied with how they played on Sunday.
"Positives, we didn't give up a touchdown today, but we gotta do better," linebacker Bobby Okereke said. "We got to hold them to less than our offense scores. And we didn't do that today, so we didn't do our job."
But for as crushing as Sunday's loss felt in the moment – it sent the Colts to 1-3-1 against the AFC South with only a Week 18 divisional home game against the Houston Texans remaining – Reich offered a dose of perspective while the sting was still settling in. The message: Yes, this hurts, but this team is 3-3-1 – by no means buried, by no means so far behind they can't accomplish their goals in 2022.
"As bad as this feels — and, listen, I'm not looking for any silver linings," Reich said. "But also as the head coach, you got to have a little perspective. We are 3-3-1, We are 3-3-1. We lost a game today that hurt. We got out-played and out-coached, and there's no excuses for that. So we deserve all of it, we deserve all the negative stuff. We really do. I do, we do. But we're 3-3-1. There's a lot of football left. I believe in this team, I believe in our coaching staff, I believe we'll get to where we want to go."
That message resonated within the Colts' locker room.
"We got a lot of football left," Campbell said. "I think every man on this roster, coaches included, we know it's not the end of the world. Obviously we love this game and we want to win this division so bad, so this one hurts extra. But we gotta go back to the drawing board because we got a lot of football left. If you mope about this too long, it's gonna roll over to the next week. So we just got to get back in tomorrow, watch the film, get the corrections and move forward. We can't dwell on this for too long."
"We gotta win," Okereke added. "And if we want to go where we want to go, we gotta treat every game like a playoff game. Every game is that much more important now with the third loss in the division. So we just gotta keep going and going every week."
The Colts take on the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium.