The Indianapolis Colts had Andrew Luck on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans just had bad luck.
The Colts’ quarterback rallied his team to a fourth-quarter touchdown with 1:55 to play, and then the Indianapolis defense returned a Marcus Mariota fumble for a score on the Titans’ next offensive play to come away with a 34-26 victory. It marked the 10th straight time the Colts have beaten the Titans and was Indy’s 15th win over Tennessee in the past 16 meetings.
Asked about why Luck has the Titans’ number, linebacker Derrick Morgan offered, “Because he does. He just does. They kept fighting to the end and we gave up the lead defensively. We let them do too much. We let them move up and down the field and we didn’t play our brand of defense.”
With 6:02 to play, the Titans took a 23-20 lead, but collapsed, allowing Andrew Luck to march the Colts downfield for the go-ahead score with 1:55 to play, and then having a Marcus Mariota fumble returned for a TD by Robert Mathis on the very next play from scrimmage.
It marked the 10th consecutive loss for the Titans to the Colts, and denied Tennessee a chance to position itself in the AFC South. Instead, the Titans are now 3-4 overall with the Jacksonville Jaguars coming to town Thursday in what becomes a must-win game.
“There’s a lot we still need to clean up,” Luck said. “But to find a way to win that game – that strip sack, the hands team with the ball going out of bounds – it’s a good to finish it that way. It’s a good win.”
Luck was 27 of 39 for 353 yards and three scores, while the Titans defense only managed to sack him twice.
The Titans started off well enough, scoring on the opening drive of the game, using a tackle eligible as Mariota hit left tackle Taylor Lewan for a 10-yard TD. The snap on the PAT was low, and punter Brett Kern wound up throwing a desperation pass to Ryan Succop that was unsuccessful, leaving the score 6-0.
But Luck, who has never lost to the Titans, began to rally Indianapolis, taking the lead with a 3-yard pass to Frank Gore. Adam Vinatieri’s point after made the score 7-6.
Indianapolis continued to dominate the first half, with a 37-yard TD toss to T.Y. Hilton and then getting a 28-yard field goal from Vinatieri to make it 17-6. Included in that onslaught of points was a surprise onside kick recovered by the Colts.
The Titans showed signs of life toward the end of the first half, when DeMarco Murray, who finished with 107 yards on 25 carries, scored from a yard out with 34 seconds left to cut the lead to 17-13 at the half.
In the third quarter, Vinatieri connected again, from 33-yards out before the Titans tied the game on Mariota’s 7-yard pass to Delanie Walker with 12:39 to go.
From there, Tennessee regained the lead on Succop’s 48-yard field goal at 23-20 before the roof fell in on Titans, who allowed the go-ahead TD drive, leaving Jack Doyle virtually uncovered near the goal line and then turning the ball over when T.Y. McGill sacked Mariota, knocked the ball free and into the waiting arms of Mathis, who rambled for the insurance score.
Needing two scores, the Titans got Succop’s 44-yard field goal to cut it to eight, but the ensuing onside kick went out of bounds.
Cornerback Jason McCourty said losing Sunday’s division game hurts because the Titans had a chance to make some head way inside the division with a win.
“I think it hurts most, just being a division game,” McCourty said. “We had an opportunity in our hands. The division is kind of wide open, and to kind of squander it away … I feel like week in and week our, in our losses, we keep walking away saying, ‘We fought hard, we hung tight and we just weren’t able to close it.’ We’ve obviously done it in a few games, this year, but we just haven’t been able to consistently do it.”
Titans coach Mike Mularkey pointed to mistakes early in the game as being costly for his team.
“Because of some of the things we did early with the botched extra point, not recovering the onside, that’s four points right there again that played into the factor of managing the game at the end,” Mularkey said.