Late-Game Trickery Too Little Too Late as Titans Fall To 5-7

Bryan HollisterAnalyst IDecember 6, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - DECEMBER 06:  Vince Young #10 of  the Tennessee Titans is pictured during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 6, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

While it lasted, it was a wonderful pipe dream.

But with a 27-17 loss to the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, the Tennessee Titans learned a valuable lesson in reality: all the electrifying play in the world means nothing if you can't come up big in critical games.

Not that any one particular person was to blame; Vince Young threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns—admittedly, one was a late-game strike that didn't amount to much in the grand scheme of things—and while he didn't have a break-away run that has defined his play of late, Chris Johnson still ran the ball for 113 yards, giving him seven straight games of 100 yards or better rushing and keeping the possibility of breaking Eric Dickerson's record alive, if only marginally.

Peyton Manning was held to less than 300 yards passing with only one touchdown, and Joseph Addai and Co. were kept under 100 yards on the ground.

Still, the Titans team that took the field against Indianapolis was not the same team we have enjoyed watching for the last month.

On offense they looked slack; Young did not seem to be on the same page with his receiving corps, frequently throwing out routes when the receiver ran an in route, or throwing long when the receiver pulled up short (or, in the case of his one interception, vice versa).

Even when he was on the same page, his receivers let him down with a dropped pass, such as the long strike to Nate Washington that could have scored six if Washington wasn't so apparently intent on showing Titans fans why he was the No. 3 receiver in Pittsburgh last year.

Even Ahmard Hall got in on the action, fumbling at mid-field just when the Titans looked like they were pulling it together to go on a scoring run.

On defense it wasn't that they gave up any really huge plays; a few big ones, maybe, but what really hurt them was all the little plays. The underneath routes that allowed Manning and the Colts to pick up critical third downs; the runs that looked to be stopped in the backfield that instead turned into positive gains; the late game drive that ate up over half of the remaining time and put the Titans in a virtual no-win situation.

Not to mention the two failed fourth down attempts in the red zone that might have made a significant difference in the outcome. Red zone drives should end in points every time; the fact that Fisher and Co. felt it necessary to go for it not once, but twice, on fourth down kept six points off of the board, six points that could have made a difference in play-calling later in the game.

A recovered onside kick late in the fourth quarter went for naught; with no time outs and time quickly slipping away, the Titans failed to convert on fourth-and-10, leaving the Colts two kneeldowns away from ending the game. 

Alas, the loss realistically means an end to the Titans post season aspirations; they may still be mathematically alive, but with so many teams in front of them, their best bet at making the Super Bowl is to buy their tickets now.

Of course, the Colts win, coupled with an overtime victory by the New Orleans Saints, keeps the possibility of an undefeated Super Bowl alive. We all know that once the Colts lock up the top seed, they are likely to shut it down and allow their starters to rest and recover for the playoffs; until then, though, it sure is nice to dream about it.