Colts vs. Titans final score, takeaways: Mariota, defense step up late for Tennessee
The Titans looked dead in the water for three quarters, but scored 21 in the final frame to beat the Colts
The Tennessee Titans have finally slain the dragon. After 11 consecutive losses to the division rival Indianapolis Colts, the Titans came back from 10 points down, using a 21-point fourth quarter to win going away, 36-22. Tennessee moved into a first-place tie with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans at 3-3 in the process, while dropping the Colts to the basement of the AFC South at 2-4.
For a while, it sure looked like the Titans were going to fall to the Colts once again. They couldn't get their run game going at all, hampered by their inability to use their quarterback's legs to manipulate the defense as they normally do. Their defense was letting Jacoby Brissett walk up and down the field, the secondary springing leaks anywhere and everywhere.
They managed three field-goal drives in the first half despite not being able to create any big plays, and after an early second-half setback in the form of a pick-six, which the Titans followed up with three more dispiriting drives, it sure seemed like that Titans were going to lose.
But all those field goals on choppy drives just kept them in the game long enough for Marcus Mariota to find a rhythm and for Dick LeBeau to figure out how to slow down Brissett. Mariota and the offense went on three touchdown drives of at least 75 yards, the last two capped by two long touchdowns. Key plays from veteran defenders like Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard created turnovers, while the Logan Ryan-led secondary clamped down in the second half as well.
And just like that, the Colts' lead was gone, and the Titans had won a game they seemed destined to lose until they had firmly taken control midway through the fourth quarter. Sometimes, football just happens like that.
Here are a few more things to know about the Titans' 36-22 victory.
A tale of two QBs, and a tale of two halves
It was the best of halves. It was the worst of halves. For Jacoby Brissett and the Colts. Brissett started off this game hot, completing seven of his first 10 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown.
By the end of the half, Brissett was 12 of 17 for 119 yards and the score, leading the Colts on three scoring drives. The second half was a different story, as he finished 8 of 19 for 87 yards. The Colts managed only a field goal on seven possessions.
Marcus Mariota's night was basically the inverse of Brissett's. Mariota could barely move -- you can count the number of times he left the pocket on one hand. He struggled early to get anything going, and by midway into the third quarter it looked like the Titans had simply brought him back from injury too early.
He finally managed to get Eric Decker involved, peppering the veteran with nine targets, of which he caught seven for 88 yards. He made the right check-downs to his running backs and worked in his complementary players, and did it all while working on a gimpy wheel.
Return of the Mack ... to a clear backup role
Coming out of last week's game, it seemed like Colts backup Marlon Mack was getting ready to take the lead role away from Frank Gore, who has basically been in the NFL since "Return of the Mack" came out. That did not happen. Here was the running back snap split for the Colts in the first half:
Mack was out-snapped by No. 3 back Robert Turbin in the first half, and he was in the second half as well. Gore led the way in carries and touches, and Mack looked like a clear third option as the Colts mostly let Jacoby Brissett pilot the offense.
Exotic smashmouth vs. Colts' new-look defensive front
The Titans got creative several times, working in shovel passes, tight end jet sweeps, and a few multiple-RB sets, but for the most part, the Colts' new-look front seven did a very good job of slowing down a Tennessee rushing attack that is normally very good ... right up until Derrick Henry popped a 72-yard score to seal the game.
DeMarco Murray and Henry combined for 99 rushing yards on 30 carries before than run, an average of 3.19 a pop. It certainly didn't help that Mariota could not threaten the defense to the outside with his legs like he normally can -- the Colts just didn't have to honor any boot action and could thus close down on the rushing attack whenever Mariota handed it off.
John Simon in particular had a wonderful game, recording 10 tackles (two for loss), a sack, a pass defensed, and a pick-six.
Rough night for Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle has worked his way up the tight end depth chart for the Colts over the last several years, and this season he's the undisputed No. 1 guy at that position. He had a pretty nice game back in Week 2, but slowed down over the next couple games, missed last week with a concussion, and after an early score, just had a brutal remainder of the evening against the Titans on Thursday.
Doyle seemed to come down with a case of the yips, dropping at least three passes, getting stripped by Avery Williamson on a catch-and-run, and nearly fumbling the ball away again on a late-game drive.
A reliable target for Andrew Luck last year, Doyle has not been quite as good with Jacoby Brissett.
The record you had no idea existed
Congratulations to Titans kicker Ryan Succop, who, with a 48-yard first quarter kick, set a new NFL record for consecutive field goal attempts of less than 50 yards made.
He added a 32-yarder later in the first quarter, another field goal in the second and two more in the third to extend his record to 51 in a row.
Whither Andrew Luck?
Andrew Luck had surgery on his throwing shoulder this offseason. He has yet to play a game and only recently started throwing again in practice. We don't yet know when he'll get back on the field, but it's hard to say that this is an encouraging report:
As Jon Gruden pointed out during the broadcast, it was definitely not a good idea to call a reverse-pivot speed option for Jacoby Brissett, allowing him to get hit directly in the right shoulder. With so much uncertainty surrounding Luck's health and potential return, the Colts have to keep Brissett healthy at all costs. Obviously, his running ability is part of his appeal, but they shouldn't be designing plays that put him in obvious jeopardy like that.
The Colts are 2-4 and will host the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars next week at 1 p.m. ET. The Titans are 3-3 and will travel to Cleveland to take on one of the winless Browns, also in a 1 p.m. ET start.
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