Special teams showed the way, but make no mistake, the defense and the offense all had a big hand in the Tennessee Titans second-half collapse that led to a 34-17 whipping by the Indianapolis Colts in prime time on Thursday Night Football.
The Titans were leading 17-13, when newly signed punter Trevor Daniel, just up from the practice squad and subbing for Ryan Allen, shanked a 17-yard punt, giving Indianapolis the ball at the Titans' 27. From there, the Colts converted the go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard plunge by Nyheim Hines with 2:51 to go in the third quarter.
It started an avalanche of points, as the Colts outscored the Titans 21-0 in the second half to turn a halfitme deficit into a rout and a share of first place in the AFC South.
Daniel and the Titans punt team had another breakdown following the next series – a three-and-out – when E.J. Speed broke through the Titans line and blocked the punt, allowing teammate T.J. Carrie to scoop it up and score from 6 yards out go give the Colts a suddenly commanding 27-17 lead in a span of 59 seconds.
Daniel, signed to the practice squad last week and elevated to game-day roster for Thursday night, out-performed Allen in practice, according to Vrabel. But in the game, the move proved disastrous for the Titans.
“It pretty much spoke for itself. They got the ball at the 30-yard line one time and got it in the end zone in the other,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the Titans did manage to move back in position to score on the ensuing drive, but inconsistent Stephen Gostkowski, operating again with his third holder in three games, missed a 44-yard field goal that could have made it a one score game. Gostkowski has now missed eight field goals this season.
To make matters worse, the Titans then allowed the Colts to march back downfield and put the game away with another touchdown drive to push the lead to its final 17-point margin.
“There's a lot of things that have to change. When you don't play well enough and you don't coach well, you lose,” Vrabel said.
After that the Titans continued to unravel, turning the football over on fourth-and-3 with Ryan Tannehill far overshooting Jonnu Smith with a pass in the corner of the end zone.
The loss drops the Titans to 6-3 and into a first-place tie with the Colts with a return match in Indianapolis on Nov. 29. Before that, the Titans will travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens on Nov. 22 in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game.
“We have to clear our minds and our heads and get ready to go on Monday, because we can't wait around any longer. We have to take it up a notch and be ready to play our best football every Sunday going forward,” Tannehill said.
Tannehill, who did have a first-half touchdown pass to D'Onta Foreman, was just 15 of 27 for 147 yards passing in the game. Derrick Henry did have 103 yards rushing, which was a bright spot, but the Titans lost for the second time in three games with him going over the century mark after having been 16-0 with that stat previously.
“This one definitely stings. They were the better team today,” Henry said.
Colts quarterback Philip Rivers, long a Titans nemesis from his days with the Chargers, looked as smooth as ever against Tennessee. Rivers completed 29 of 39 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown pass.
Hines hurt the Titans too, rushing for 70 yards on 12 carries and adding 45 yards on five catches. Michael Pittman was Rivers' favorite target with seven receptions for 101 yards.
Defensively, the Titans' problems with getting off the field continued to plague them. While the Colts were just 4-of-12 on third-down conversions, Indy's offense show little fear of the Titans defense, going for five fourth-down tries and converting on three of them. The Colts punted just once in the game, and that did not take place until 3:05 remaining in the final quarter.
“Some of the same things that kind of crept up in our game all year kind of came back to haunt us. Really, it's just the details, fundamentals, cutting guys loose, a lot of times we're shooting ourselves in the foot. Instead of making offenses beat us, we're beating ourselves,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “Obviously when we get these three days off to reflect, everybody needs to look in the mirror and see what's going on. If you play like that in this league, you're not going to win very many games.”