INDIANAPOLIS — The Tennessee Titans found a new way to lose on Sunday, blowing a 13-point halftime lead and falling 27-23 to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Titans were near flawless in the first half behind quarterback Jake Locker in building a 20-7 advantage, only to have two second-half turnovers, including a pick six from Cassius Vaughn, that gave the Colts their first lead, 21-20 with 5:36 to play in the third quarter.
To their credit, the Titans rallied and regained the lead at 23-21 on Rob Bironas' 25-yard field goal, but at crunch time following two Colts field goals, the Titans simply could not put together a drive necessary to win the game.
And the defense, which had been solid for much of the day, sacking Andrew Luck four times and getting a pick six from Will Witherspoon, could not stop Indy's offense late in the game, allowing the Colts to run out the clock.
'I don't think there is any way to feel better about this, period. We've got to win,” safety Michael Griffin said. “That's why we play this game. It's getting old, this whole situation. We have an opportunity to win football games, and we're not capitalizing on it and executing. That's what the good teams do. They're able to make plays and win football games, and that's what we're not capable of doing right now.”
While no one would come out and say the Titans have lost confidence or can't win close games, it was evident Sunday that the mounting losses and Tennessee's 4-9 record are taking their toll on the team's collective pysche.
Tackle Michael Roos said that the inability to make enough good things happen have snowballed on the Titans this season.
“In the NFL, everything snowballs, whether you're winning or losing, the way it's going, it snowballs. Indy and Houston, when you have a winning season like that, things happen for you, and you kind of assume they're going to happen and they keep happening. You can't explain why, but that's the way it is,” Roos said. “The same thing with losing, the little breaks you need, they never come your way. They always go toward the other team. You've just got to keep working. That's all you can do.”
The Titans' struggles this year have coincided with the Colts quick resurgence after being the worst team in the league last year. Roos says he can trace the Titans slide this year back to the first meeting with the Colts at LP Field on Oct. 28.
“When we played the Colts last time, trying to get to 4-4, we had control of the game, but it was just one of those games, it was a hard-fought game. It went into overtime and they pulled it out,” Roos said. “And starting from that point, you hope that guys can figure things out and do what it takes to fix it, but sometimes it just snowballs.”
Indeed, the Titans were in the driver's seat from the outset Sunday, with Locker directing a touchdown drive on the opening series, and later Tennessee getting a 40-yard interception return from Will Witherspoon sandwiched around a pair of Rob Bironas field goals. It meant a 20-7 lead, and Locker was especially sharp, hitting 15 of 20 passes for 213 yards with a 18-yard TD throw to Jared Cook.
But just as much as Locker was hot in the first half, he and the offense were ice cold in the second half, starting with Vaughn's interception that gave Indianapolis the lead.
“It was one I shouldn't have thrown,” said Locker, who had just 49 yards passing on 7 of 15 throws after halftime. “I should be able to handle that position. I didn't think it was going to be a roll corner like that, and it was.”
The Titans still had time and chances to overcome that, but Locker and Nate Washington miscommunicated on the quarterback's second interception, and a late drive was hurt by the fact that the Titans ran a quarterback sneak on first down.
Yes, you read that correctly. The Titans thought the ball had been marked short on Chris Johnson's 6-yard run, and in the hurry-up, the call was sent in for Locker to sneak it for the first down, even though the chains were moved and it was actually first down.
“I guess what happened was that upstairs, they told us it was third-and-1, and we called the sneak,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, “and I didn't know until afterward that they had moved the chains and it was a first down. … It's unfortunate.”
But it was typical of how the day and the season went for the Titans, as their struggles continued to mount. Meanwhile, the Colts, behind rookie QB Andrew Luck, continue to cruise toward a playoff spot at 9-4 with three games left.
“That's why they are where they are and we are where we are,” Coach Mike Munchak offered. “They rose up like they've been doing all year. Maybe the stats aren't pretty, but when they had to make the plays, they did and we didn't.”