Series after series and play after play, the Tennessee Titans offense ripped through the Indianapolis Colts in the first half Sunday.
Derrick Henry piled up 99 rushing yards. Ryan Tannehill was nearly perfect in the air. And the Titans scored on four of five possessions and totaled 24 points before halftime.
Who would have thought at that point they would need so many big defensive plays to earn a 24-17 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium?
OK, bad question.
Plenty of us probably thought just that.
Sure enough, the Titans followed the same formula they have in three of four games this season: Score at least 20 points in the first half, forget how to move the ball in the second half and hope the defense comes through with enough big plays in the third and fourth quarters to seal the victory.
That unusual pattern has been successful on two of three occasions this season, which is why the Titans find themselves at 2-2, tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South.
So in the end, should it matter how victory is attained, as long as that is the end result?
“I know what ideal is – winning,” Tannehill told media in Indianapolis. “I don’t really care how it comes. Our job is to win, whether it’s 'ugly' or 'pretty.' It really doesn’t matter. A `W’ is a `W’ and our job is to score more points than the other team, and finish each and every week 1-0, as best we can.”
In the end, the Titans – who led 24-3 and had two possessions to increase that advantage – wound up needing some huge defensive moments to secure the victory. They got three of them in the late going, one on each of the Colts’ final three drives as Indianapolis tried to tie the game:
• On the Colts’ final third-quarter possession, Rashad Weaver dropped quarterback Matt Ryan for a sack and caused a fumble, a play that stifled an Indianapolis drive that had reached the Titans’ 36-yard line.
• One series later, Titans linebacker Joe Schobert – signed to the practice squad last week – knocked the football out of Jonathan Taylor’s hands. Kristian Fulton recovered the fumble, again frustrating the Colts after they’d reached the Titans’ 23-yard line.
<bullet> On Indianapolis’ final possession, Denico Autry crashed through the line and sacked Ryan for an eight-yard loss. A Colts’ drive that had reached the 25-yard line ultimately wound up with Chase McLaughlin missing a 51-yard field goal.
“I think that’s what you’re going to have to do is try to find ways to win,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “Coming up with some huge turnovers, taking care of the football. Getting some special teams to be able to create some field position or flip the field. Coming up with huge stops defensively, when maybe we’re not at our best. And they keep fighting and competing.”
The last stop left the Titans’ offense with one simple task: Pick up a single first down to seal the victory. The offense delivered in that case, thanks to Tannehill’s completion to rookie tight end Chig Okonkwo with just under two minutes remaining.
But as pleased and relieved as Titans fans had to be after earning a franchise-best fourth straight win over the Colts – and a franchise-best fourth straight win in Indianapolis – frustrating questions remain.
How can the Titans’ offense manage – in 30 minutes and five possessions over the final two quarters – a meager three first downs and 28 total yards, converting just one-of-six third down attempts?
How can a Titans offense that’s scored 75 points in four first halves this season manage all of seven points in the second halves? The Titans have been blanked in 11 straight second-half quarters now, ever since they scored a third-quarter touchdown against the New York Giants in Week 1.
“I know we came out and played well in the first half and then the second half, it was what it was,” Tannehill said. “We found a way to go get a first down when it mattered at the end. Proud of our guys and the way we battled together throughout the game. The offense was able to make a few plays at the end when it counted, get that first down and seal the game.”
The bottom line was victory.
In a league where finding ways to win is at a premium, the Titans have discovered a successful formula to do so the last two weeks – strange as it may be.