INDIANAPOLIS _ In a venue that has been a house of horrors in the past, the Tennessee Titans finally had answers and turned the tables on their old tormenters the Indianapolis Colts, rallying for a 31-17 victory Sunday.
The victory lifts the Titans to 7-5 overall and puts them in control of their divisional fate with four games left this season, including two meetings with the Houston Texans in the season’s final three games.
Along the way, the Titans had some heroics from their usual suspects in Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, but also got clutch plays from role players like Tye Smith and Kalif Raymond in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Just one play into the game, it appeared that the Titans would fall into the Lucas Oil Stadium trap yet again, as Henry had the ball punched out on his first carry of the game and Malik Hooker recovered it at the Tennessee 39. From there, the Colts cashed in with a Jack Doyle 21-yard TD reception to give Indy a quick 7-0 lead.
After an answering touchdown drive where Ryan Tannehill capped a 75-yard march with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Adam Humphries, the Titans found trouble again. Tannehill was stripped of the football on a sack. But the Titans caught a break when Adam Vinatieri missed a 55-yard field goal to keep the score tied.
Indianapolis had other scoring opportunities in the first half, but failed to take full advantage. The Colts had a 53-yard field goal try blocked when Austin Johnson got a hand on the low line drive kick in the second quarter, and Indy managed to get a 28-yard field goal that pushed its lead to 10-7 at the half.
Things looked bleak for the Titans early in the second half as Brissett directed an easy scoring drive to start the third quarter, taking the Colts 75 yards in 11 plays and going up 17-7.
But the Titans didn’t panic. Instead, they did as they had done earlier this season against the Kansas City Chiefs when trailing by two scores. They continued to use Henry and the run game to move downfield. Faced with a fourth-and-1 at the Indianapolis 13, Titans coach Mike Vrabel decided to gamble, bypassing a chip-shot field goal to try and keep the drive alive. The Titans handed the ball to Henry who made his way over the left side and found an opening, not only picking up the first down but a touchdown that trimmed the Indy edge to 17-14.
“If something is working, we’re going to keep being physical and keep executing,” said Henry, who shook off the early fumble to finish with 149 yards and a score on 26 carries.
“It was huge. A great call by Vrabel letting us go for it there. I loved it,” said Tannehill, who was 17 of 22 passing for 182 yards and two scores. “We kind of had them on the ropes. We were gaining yards in the run game and we came up one yard short on third down. Dion (Lewis) was able to get it to fourth-and-short. Great call by Vrabel to let us go for it, and I had no doubt he was going to get it.”
On the next series, the Titans defense stepped up when Kevin Byard intercepted Brissett, the first of three Titans takeaways – and it set up Ryan Succop’s 31-yard field goal that tied the game with 4:26 to go in the third period.
The fourth quarter belonged to the Titans, however, and some unlikely heroes in the process.
Indianapolis was lined up to try a 46-yard field goal when Dane Cruikshank broke through the line, timing the snap as the Titans blocked the kick for the second time in the game. This time, however, the ball was behind the line of scrimmage and bounced into the waiting arms of Tye Smith, who raced untouched 63 yards for the go-ahead score.
“We all had a feeling we could get to it,” Smith said, “and my job was to ball level. Dane blocked it, and I was able to get ball level and it bounced in my hands, and I just took off.”
That 10-point swing wasn’t the only momentum change late in the game.
On the ensuing series, Brissett misfired on another pass and Logan Ryan picked it off. From there, the Titans ran a couple of plays and then went for the jugular, as Tannehill dialed up a deep post to Raymond, who made a diving catch for the touchdown.
“Coach Rob (Moore) says make sure you set the guy up, and that’s what I tried to do,” Raymond said of getting a step on Colts defender Rolan Milligan. “I knew it was an opportunity to make a play. We talked about all week that when your time comes, be ready, be prepared, and I think I was as prepared as possible to go out and make a play.”
That put the Titans up by 14 points with 3:02 to play, and the defense and Smith rose to the occasion one more time, as he stripped the ball from the Colts’ Ross Travis following a reception in the red zone. The Titans recovered and ran out the clock, exorcising many old demons here in the process.
Tennessee heads to Oakland next week to face the 6-6 Raiders, who are still alive in the wild-card chase themselves before returning home on Dec. 15 to face the Texans in what could be for the AFC South lead by the time that game rolls around.
The Titans were already without LeShaun Sims on Sunday, who was out with an ankle injury. In the second quarter, they lost Adoree’ Jackson to a right knee injury. He returned for one series, but then was replaced again by Kareem Orr and was announced out for the game.
Special teams linebacker Daren Bates left the game with a left shoulder injury and did not return. Bates had his arm in a sling in the Titans locker room after the game.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan missed some time in the second half with a quad injury.