Colts vs. Titans Take 2: Indianapolis Catches All the Breaks
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The Legend of Andrew Luck took a big step forward at LP Field in Nashville in Week 8.
The rookie quarterback ripped off a pair of 80-yard drives late in the game to elevate the Indianapolis Colts to a 19-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans, pushing their record to 4-3 on the season.
Just how did the Colts come back?
A second look at the tape reveals all.
The Real Story
This is one the Titans will be kicking themselves over for weeks.
Tennessee had every opportunity to put the Colts away and win by double digits, but couldn't execute when the time came.
There were fumbles not recovered, interceptions not secured and most importantly, drives not finished.
The Titans settled for three field goal attempts (only two successful) and a punt on four key drives into Indy territory.
Their first drive was done in by a penalty and a sack.
In the second half, they followed up a missed field goal with a drive inside the Colts' 10, only to have a fumbled snap and another sack.
Finally, with the game on the line, Matt Hasselbeck misfired over the head of a wide-open Jared Cook.
Of course, it's not like the Colts were the crown prince of execution either.
They kicked a field goal inside the five-yard line, killed a drive with a personal foul, had a blocked kick, a sack and an interception all kill promising drives.
The one thing the Colts did effectively was move the ball. They crossed into Titans territory on every single drive until the final minute of regulation.
The real story is that both of these teams are deeply flawed and one of them had to win. The Titans didn't put the Colts away, so they hung around long enough to steal the win from the home team.
The Colts had nearly everything that could go right break their way. The loose balls were recovered, overturned or blown dead. Big gains were called back.
It was a coin-flip game, and the Colts called heads.
For Indianapolis, everything begins with Luck and Reggie Wayne, who hooked up repeatedly for key plays.
Donald Brown was stellar, picking up 80 yards rushing on just 14 carries, more than half of that coming in overtime.
Finally, Vick Ballard ran well and finished off the game with a spectacular effort to get into the end zone.
It's hard to find heroes for the Titans, but Kendall Wright's touchdown loomed large most of the day. While it was probably a push-off, the individual effort to get both his feet down was exemplary.
Hasselbeck would have made this space, but his overthrow of Cook was just too big of a missed opportunity.
Defensively, Akeem Ayers played well, picking up a sack and nearly forcing the key turnover of the game.
The Colts' defense relied more on mistakes by the Titans than positive plays, going without a turnover for the fourth time in seven games. Corners Cassius Vaughn and Jerraud Powers had a difficult time breaking up passes.
Donnie Avery continued to be the worst player on the field for the Colts. He was awful in every respect, killing one drive with a personal foul, blowing blocks, running bad routes, failing to get open and dropping what could have been a key pass at the goal line. He is single-handedly killing the Indianapolis offense week after week.
The offensive line for the Titans didn't have a terrible game. After all, Chris Johnson had 99 yards rushing, and Hasselbeck was only sacked twice.
However, when it came time for key plays it seemed there was a failed run, a blown block or a penalty mixed in from the linemen. There was no one culprit. It was a group effort.
Even though Avery had a difficult game, he did play a big role in a difference-making play.
With 47 seconds to play in regulation, the Colts faced a 3rd-and-5 from their own 11-yard line. The Titans still possessed a timeout, and Indianapolis would have been punting into the wind.
Bruce Arians chose to get aggressive and allowed Luck to pass. He found Avery for 10 yards over the middle to give the Colts a new set of downs, and ultimately run out the clock.
Both coaches made controversial decisions in this one.
Bruce Arians made the wrong call early in the game taking a field goal on 4th-and-goal from the two. A failed conversion attempt would still have likely led to at least a field goal try later, and a successful try would have likely resulted in a win in regulation.
In the fourth quarter, Arians smartly had the Colts go for it on 4th-and-1 from the eight with 4:11 to play. It was a simple call, and the interim coach nailed it. Delone Carter picked up the first down, dragging defenders to the goal line. He scored the tying touchdown a play later.
Arians won the day by being aggressive both at the end of regulation with the secret play and by taking the ball in overtime. Both were easy calls, but some coaches could outthink themselves.
On the whole, it was a good day for Arians.
Mike Munchak faced one key choice, and it was probably a no-win option.
With 1:07 to play, the Titans faced 4th-and-9 from the Indy 41.
Munchak could have opted for a long field goal with the wind, but a miss would have set Indy up near midfield. This was a low-percentage option given Rob Bironas's kicking adventures that day.
He could have elected to go for it, relying on Hasselbeck to pick up the first down. Hasselbeck was just 1-for-6 on third-down plays over five yards on the day, however.
Instead, he punted to the Colts, and the Titans never saw the ball again.
Given all the facts, it's hard to criticize his choice.
Keep an Eye On...
The Colts have now won two games without winning the turnover battle. In four coin-flip games, they are 3-1.
While it's absolutely true the Colts could go on a run to make the playoffs, that simply won't happen unless the defense plays better.
The next two games will tell the story for Indy. The Dolphins will be a difficult opponent, even at home. They then travel to Jacksonville on a short week. Road teams face a massive disadvantage in Thursday night games.
With the Patriots on the docket after that, Indianapolis must at least split the next two games to keep playoff hopes alive. At 5-5, the Colts can hope to win their three remaining home games and win at Kansas City to get to nine wins.
If they drop three in a row, they'll be 4-6, and playoff odds will be slim at best.
Tennessee, on the other hand, has little hope of a postseason run. At this point, the season is all about developing the offense.
Jerry Gray will almost assuredly be released as defensive coordinator after the season, so the team will be looking to get Jake Locker back on the field and healthy.
They won't be playing in January, but the Titans can still build their future for 2013 by letting Locker develop a rapport with his wide receivers.
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