Third and ten, Fitzpatrick under pressure, throws right, intercepted by Jerrell Freeman. Game. Victory formation. 22-14, Colts.
How they got there was rough to watch at times, except, perhaps, for a field goal enthusiast, but this one goes in the win column. Given what’s occurred in recent weeks, that “W” looks great.
The game began with excitement over the news that Indianapolis had finally benched the struggling Trent Richardson in favor of Donald Brown, but the first drive ended quickly, when Andrew Luck’s pass, though beautifully thrown where only his receiver should get it, bounced off T.Y. Hilton’s hands for an interception.
The defense, who would find themselves on the field most of the game, answered with a three and out, setting up Luck and the already struggling offense for a field goal drive and a 3-0 lead. On the drive, Chuck Pagano at one point elected to go for it on fourth and one from the Tennessee 36, which Trent Richardson was able to convert.
Indy’s defense held the Titans scoreless through the first quarter, and the offense, thanks mostly to good field position and a rare catch by Darrius Heyward-Bey for 23 yards, tacked on another field goal for a 6-0 lead.
Tennessee finally answered back with a one-yard quarterback sneak by Ryan Fitzpatrick, to cap off an 11-play, 79-yard drive and a 7-6 lead.
The Colts, struggling mightily to protect Luck – who wasn’t having his best game already – managed to drive into field goal range once again after WR Da’Rick Rogers, on his only target of the day, drew a pass interference penalty on Titans CB Alterraun Verner.
Up 9-7, some great pass defense by Antoine Bethea and a nice stop for two yards by Erik Walden and Kelvin Sheppard set up another punt, which Indianapolis answered with a quick three and out after Luck took a sack from Kamerion Wimbley.
Darius Butler, starting in place of Cassius Vaughn on the outside, broke up a third down pass intended for Kendall Wright to force another punt, but once again, the Colts offense could not capitalize. Luck was sacked twice on the drive, fumbling both times (both were recovered by the Indianapolis).
After Cassius Vaughn picked off a Fitzpatrick pass intended for Kendall Wright, the Colts took possession at their own 36 with 26 seconds left in the second quarter. Despite taking yet another sack – his fourth of the half, he managed to complete passes of 17 and 20 yards to T.Y. Hilton, to set up Adam Vinatieri’s fourth field goal and take a 12-7 halftime lead.
To open the second half, Fitzpatrick drove the Titans 70 yards for a touchdown, finishing off the drive with a 1-yard pass to Chris Johnson on fourth down to take a 14-12 lead.
The Colts, still struggling on offense, managed to answer back after Robert Mathis strip-sacked Fitzpatrick at the Tennessee 32-yard line. Indianapolis, strangely, called a trick play that turned out to be an end around to Heyward-Bey for an 11-yard loss. It was a 4 play, 1-yard drive, but Vinatieri nailed a 49-yarder to, quite improbably, retake the lead, at 15-14.
The defense, exhausted from following up multiple short drives, came through once again when Fitzpatrick threw an errant pass toward Nate Washington under pressure for Cassius Vaughn’s second interception.
After another three and out, newly activated linebacker Josh McNary broke up a deep pass on third and eight. Then, after yet another three and out by the offense (their third straight), Robert Mathis hit Fitzpatrick as he threw to set up an incompletion on third and ten.
The Colts offense finally rewarded their counterparts with an 11-play, 92-yard drive. There were some nice short passes, particularly the 13-yarder to Coby Fleener on second and eight, but it could be summed up in two words: Donald Brown.
Brown carried the ball 6 times for 46 yards and a 4-yard touchdown to help seal the win. The coaches even appeared to try to give the TD to Trent Richardson after Fleener’s catch set them up at the Titans’ 4-yard line. No gain. The hard-charging Brown crashed into the end zone with linebacker Mario Harvey as the lead blocker for a 22-14 lead.
The now somewhat rested defense, with 1:56 left in the game, needed one more stop. Fitzpatrick and the Titans raced 59 yards in three plays before Jerrell Freeman ran underneath a pass intended for Wright and picked it off – the Colts’ third interception – and returned it 13-yards before going down to let the offense run out the clock.
The defense had a fast start and came through with a beautiful effort, despite being on the field for 33:55. The offense survived. Adam Vinatieri went 5/5 on field goals, and Pat McAfee averaged 45.4 yards per punt. 22-14, and the Titans are all but eliminated in the AFC South. We’ll take that.
A few notes, in no particular order:
– Indy was 3-14 on third down. Those, sadly, are not playoff team numbers.
– Chris Rainey muffed a punt and returned a kick where the blocking just wasn’t there. But he averaged 9.7 yards on punt returns and looked very, very fast.
– Robert Mathis now has 15.5 sacks this season. He hasn’t had much help, but he keeps chugging along. His strip sack today helped save this game.
– Neither Cassius Vaughn nor Darius Butler has played well on the outside, but Vaughn got his hands on nearly every bad pass (and at least one good one) in the slot today.
– Freeman had an embarrassing missed tackle early on, but finished with 9 tackles, a pass defensed, and the game-sealing interception.
– Donald Brown beat the NFL version of office politics to earn a start. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, but played very well on the fourth quarter touchdown drive.
– Darrius Heyward-Bey had a wide open drop in the second half that caused Luck to throw his arms in the air in frustration. Luck went right back to him, but DHB fell down, setting up a punt.
– Ryan Fitzpatrick has himself a BEARD.
– Receiving, and pass blocking are major issues moving forward.
– An ugly win is so much better than an ugly loss.