Colts Falter Late In Familiar Fashion

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett throws a pass in Sunday's 31-17 home loss to the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium.Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY Sports

Phillip B. Wilson

Once more, the Indianapolis Colts unraveled in an all-too-familiar demise that was a microcosm of this season.

Remember how the Colts were a surprising 5-2 and optimism abounded? That’s how Sunday looked in the third quarter, when the Colts raised hopes with a third-quarter touchdown to take a 17-7 lead on the Tennessee Titans in an all-important matchup of 6-5 AFC playoff contenders at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Then the Titans rallied with 24 unanswered points, the game-winning score coming off a return of a blocked Adam Vinatieri field goal, for a 31-17 road win.

Talk about deflating, but to be brutally honest, not entirely unexpected.

The Colts’ recent fade with four losses in five games now seems complete. Although not mathematically eliminated from the playoff conversation, this setback was like a final dagger to sustaining any realistic postseason aspirations.

Lest anyone forget, the Colts had previously owned the Titans with 19 wins in 22 games including in Week 2 at Nashville, Tenn. But that win seems like a lifetime ago.

Fittingly, a 17-all game changed dramatically when the Colts turned to Vinatieri, who had missed two previous kicks to compound the worst season of his legendary 24-year career. This third failure wasn’t his fault — the Titans’ Dane Cruikshank sped inside to practically swallow the ball, the block deflection bouncing perfectly to Tye Smith, who raced 63 yards for a touchdown with 5:02 remaining.

Instead of the Colts taking a lead late, they were down after Vinatieri’s career-high 14th miss of the year. And really, honestly, it didn’t matter if he couldn’t be blamed. He wasn’t the only reason the Colts disappointed, not this day nor this season, but the future Hall of Famer certainly played his part.

Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett, coming off one of his worst games with 129 yards passing in a loss at Houston, had enough time to rally the home team but instead forced a throw into triple coverage that was intercepted. It was his second interception of the second half, each throw unquestionably ill-advised.

On the other side, a Titans team that has now won five out of six since the emergence of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, put this one away with his pretty 40-yard TD pass to Kalif Raymond. The resurrection of Tannehill’s career from being a disappointment as Miami’s franchise quarterback now includes a solid 17-of-22 passing effort for 182 yards and two TDs.

Bottom line, Tannehill was better than Brissett, which should be cause for concern if the Colts are committed to their former backup, who received a new two-year contract when anointed the starter after Andrew Luck’s unexpected August retirement.

While the Colts defense tried to do its part with six sacks of Tannehill and forcing two turnovers, it got trampled at times by Titans running back Derrick Henry, who ran 149 yards on 26 carries with one TD.

The Colts had entered the game with the NFL’s third-ranked rushing attack. But they couldn’t count on running the ball this day with just 82 yards, far less than their 144.2-yard seasonal average.

It’s worth pointing out how the Colts have been ravaged by injuries, which aren’t supposed to be an excuse but most certainly are when they deprive a team of its leading receiver (T.Y. Hilton), leading rusher (Marlon Mack), a Pro Bowl tight end (Eric Ebron) as well as two other wide receivers (Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell).

But despite all that, a Colts team that has lived on the edge so much with 10 one-score games was in position to win another close game and didn’t.

Again, the end was all too familiar.