INDIANAPOLIS – For just the second time in six weeks, the Indianapolis Colts will take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Sunday's home tilt could not come at a better time for a Colts team faced with a golden opportunity to make a major dent in the race to capture the AFC South crown.
Getting off to better starts continues to be a priority for the Colts and with a divisional lead down to two games, the time is shrinking to get that solved.
"We'll turn every stone and exhaust all resources, but at the end of the day, no matter what you do, what wrinkles you throw in there, you've got to execute and you've got to do it better," head coach Chuck Pagano said.
"We're not going to beat people with gimmicks and this, that and the other. You beat people with sound football – tough, hard-nosed, physical, disciplined. Play with great fundamentals, great technique, great effort, all those things. I know our guys are tough and physical and they're going to play with great effort, just got to play more consistent for 60 minutes."
The Titans come into Indianapolis this weekend off a 23-19 comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders.
New starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been tremendous in the last three games--completing 71.8 percent of his passes for 806 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
With an 0-3 divisional record, the Titans are in virtually a must-win situation on Sunday to try and salvage a season split against the Colts.
Led by Fitzpatrick it's a renewed outlook for the Titans, who currently sit in the sixth spot of the AFC Playoff Picture.
"He's playing confident. He looks confident. His body language is confident," Titans head coach Mike Munchak said. "A lot different than it was earlier in the season when he was forced into play after Week 4. I think knowing that it's his team, his team to get into the playoffs."
In facing Fitzpatrick, the Colts defense had some sustained success back on Nov. 14.
The unit strung together five straight drives of holding the Titans out of the end zone which allowed the Colts to erase a 14-point first half deficit.
"We know who we are. We know what style of defense we play. We know what style of offense we play. We just have to, like I said, execute and show everybody else," linebacker Jerrell Freeman said.
"We still believe in everything we do. We trust the system. We trust the guys here in this locker room. We got the guys to do it, so we'll be alright."
Over the past two years, it's the resiliency of the Colts that has allowed them to be back in the thick of the playoff picture come December.
An 8-0 record in bounce back games will once again be tested on Sunday.
"It's good to be able to bounce back. But we shouldn't have to be able to do it every other week," defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said.
'It shouldn't have to make a detour or make an exit or something like that. We should be able to keep the ball rolling and not stop. We're coming off a loss now, but it's December – you got to play good ball to get that position you want in the playoffs."INTERESTING MATCHUPSTitans running back Chris Johnson versus the Colts defense:It looked like it was going to be a career night for Johnson last Thursday before the Colts buckled down to hold the Pro Bowler to just 16 yards on his final nine carries. That will have to be the case again on Sunday as the Colts must force Ryan Fitzpatrick beat them. Fitzpatrick has been very good lately though.Colts wide receivers versus the Titans secondary: The Colts offense is reeling and in search for some playmakers. Can they get that from guys like Darrius Heyward-Bey, LaVon Brazill and/or Da'Rick Rogers this weekend? The Titans will be without veteran safety Michael Griffin for the first time since 2006 but still have one of the game's top cornerbacks in Alterraun Verner.Quick Facts
-Since 2008, the Colts have an NFL-best 14-1 record in the second seasonal matchup against divisional foes.
-In his past three games against the Titans, Colts running back Donald Brown is averaging 107 yards per game.
-Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis (14.5 sacks) leads the NFL and is just 1.5 sacks away from setting Colts seasonal and franchise records for that mark.
-Titans running back Chris Johnson has six career rushing touchdowns of at least 80 yards, which is the most in NFL history.
-Titans tight end Delanie Walker had a career-high 10 catches for 91 yards in the Nov. 14 meeting against the Colts.
-Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is second among defensive tackles in the NFL with seven sacks on the season.
NOTABLE QUOTESColts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on how he views Sunday after the struggles in previous weeks):
-"No, it's huge. It can't get here, obviously, quick enough. This team is very resilient. You know how this team has responded to adversity. They've been always able to bounce back in these certain situations, and so we fully expect as a staff, and as a team and our players, to have a great week of preparation. We know what's at stake, but we're going to stick to the process and do what we have to do Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in order to give ourselves a chance to redeem ourselves, get this taste out of our mouth and take a stranglehold on the division."Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on the need to stop Chris Johnson again on Sunday):
-"Absolutely. Again, there's evidence on tape, like you're talking about, where everybody's on the same page and everybody's doing their job, taking care of their business and we get multiple hats and we set an edge, and we build a flat wall and we get knock-em-back up front, you contain a great player like Chris Johnson. When one guy breaks down, it only takes one. If one guy breaks down and we can't get him down in the back end, then you have a 30-yard touchdown run. That's what our focus is, to play consistent football in stopping the run against a guy like that."Colts Defensive End Cory Redding(on the importance of Sunday):
-"It's huge. It's huge. Again, this a divisional game. Again, this is a tough team that we know and they know us. This is going to be a fight. We all know the fastest way to get into the playoffs is to control your division. We have that two-game lead and we got to maintain that lead. We have to do all that we can to fight and scrap for the place that we're in. We worked our butts off to get where we're at and we got to stay there."Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak(on what Sunday means to the 5-6 Titans):
-"Well for us, like last week, the game at Oakland was a playoff game for us, with that kind of mentality. Because of the last couple weeks when we lost two games, it put us in a tough spot going to Oakland. I think this puts us in the same exact position. A division game. We're 0-3 in the division. We have to win all three division games if we want any chance at winning the division. You have to win one of these games, so this is big for a lot of reasons. To stay alive in the Wild Card race and the playoff race in general we have to win this game. It's going to be, again, the last three times we've played it's come down to the fourth quarter and they've found a way to win and we haven't got it done. Again, we have to play better, we have to play four quarters and we have to find a way to win."Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak(on what he can take from the team's first matchup):
-"The biggest thing for us was finishing drives. Probably the one before the half when we settled for a field goal rather than a touchdown. And the same thing happened early fourth quarter where we could have put a little more pressure on Indianapolis. They ran the ball on us pretty well in the second half and if we had gotten the bigger lead than we had, which we had an opportunity to do, then they wouldn't have been able to do what they did. They would have had to throw the ball, not be able to run it and control the clock. That was what was strange, they had the 17-point swing where our offense didn't get on the field and they had scored 17 points because of the turnover, because of the end of the half and the beginning of the next half. So it's clearly an odd period of time there, where in real time I don't think we were on the field for an hour as an offense. We left the field 17-3, we came back on it was 20-17. So I think that is what really changed the game last time, was the way the game fell that way. The turnover really cost us, the one turnover in the game cost us seven points and a lot of playing time. We have to come up there and we have to control. We got to not turn the ball over like we did last week and put ourselves in position because we know Indy's coming off a game they're not happy about and they want to finish this thing strong and they want to put the division away and all those type of things. We understand all that, the mindset. We're someone they've beat the last few times, so I'm sure they have a sense of confidence in how this game is going to go and we have to change all that."Titans Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick(on if the Titans are in playoff mode from here on out):
-"Yeah, I think that's exactly it. Last week against the Raiders, being down in the fourth quarter, we felt the season kind of slipping away a little bit. I think we all understand the importance of each game. And as we win games, if we continue to win, then the next game becomes even bigger, so it's one of those one-game playoff mentality mindsets for us right now."