Sports, Thrill of Victory

5 takeaways from Titans’ 24-17 loss to the Colts

Mike Mularkey and the Titans know what areas of need they have heading into the offseason. PHOTO BY DONN JONES, COURTESY TENNESSEE TITANS

On Sunday, the Tennessee Titans worsened their record to 5-6 as they lost to the Indianapolis Colts 17-24 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts are now 5-5 on the season.

Here are five takeaways from the game.

1. Titans started first half poorly but managed last second touchdown

What a difference between consecutive games.

Last week against the Green Bay Packers, the Titans scored 35 points and gained 351 yards of total offense in the first half alone, while limiting Green Bay to 16 points and 233 yards in the same time frame.

That performance did not carry over to Lucas Oil Stadium as the Colts ousted the Titans in most statistical categories through the first half. Indianapolis scored more points (21 versus 7), gained more yards (250 versus 145), and maintained possession longer (19:08 versus 10:52).

If not for a rare missed field goal attempt by Adam Vinatieri with 2:18 remaining in the second quarter, the Titans may have been held scoreless. Instead the play gave Tennessee favorable field position, which allowed quarterback Marcus Mariota to lead 12-play, 68-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 3-yard touchdown pass to running back DeMarco Murray.

The Titans’ flat start to the game certainly made it difficult on themselves as they entered the second half.

2. Mularkey came out of halftime with an aggressive game plan

On their first possession of the third quarter, the Titans had a quick three-and-out, when head coach Mike Mularkey called a fake punt at the TEN 43 yardline. A swarm of Colts’ defenders immediately stuffed Tennessee at the line of scrimmage.

Although the play didn’t fall in Mularkey’s favor, it set a tone that he and the Titans would do anything needed to overcome their first half deficit. That aggressive mindset paid off on the team’s following possession.

On a third-and-one at the IND 34 yardline, Mularkey called a play action fake, the Colts’ defense bit the bait, and Mariota threw a 34-yard bomb to receiver Tajae Sharpe. The score was then 14-21.

These play-calls, coupled with read-options and a series of defensive stops, brought Tennessee back into the game and shifted momentum in their favor at the start of the second half.

3. Geathers bested Murray to secure Colts’ win

DeMarco Murray will hope to add more production on Sunday when the Titans face the Bears. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

DeMarco Murray will hope to add more production on Sunday when the Titans face the Bears. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

With 7:44 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Titans began an offensive drive at the TEN 38 yardline as they trailed the Colts 17-24.

The drive progressed slowly. On the first set of downs, Mariota converted a third-and-10 to receiver Rishard Matthews. On the following set of downs, Mariota converted a fourth-and-one to receiver Harry Douglas.

At this point it seemed that Tennessee could pull off a come-from-behind tie, but hope passed on the Titans’ third set of downs, when Murray was stopped on a fourth-and-one attempt.

The 28-year-old running back bounced to the left side of the Titans’ offensive line, dipped his shoulder into Colts’ safety Clayton Geathers, and fell one foot short of the first down marker. 

Geathers’ stop turned out to be a game-winner. When Indianapolis regained possession, they converted a set of downs — which burned Tennessee’s remaining timeouts — and ran out the game clock.

4. Perrish Cox’s starting role is being re-evaluated

When asked about cornerback Perrish Cox and his performance against quarterback Andrew Luck and wideout T.Y. Hilton, coach Mularkey acknowledged that Tennessee is “discussing” a lineup change.   

Among all players in the NFL, Cox graded as Sunday’s worst performer according to Pro Football Focus. The sixth-year defender was targeted six times during the game, he gave up a completion on each occasion, and the passes went for 142 yards and a touchdown.

Cox’s worst play came with 10:32 remaining in the second quarter, when the Colts were attempting to convert a fourth-and-one on the TEN 2-yardline. Luck threw a short pass into Cox’s hands, but Hilton outdueled the cornerback for the football, bringing the score to 21-0.

If Mularkey decides to demote Cox from the starting lineup, Brice McCain will likely fill the role.

5. Mariota continues to ride hot streak

Although Mariota had a rough start to the first four weeks of the season, the second-year quarterback has been a top-performer in the league ever since, and Sunday was no exception to his hot streak.

Mariota completed 25-of-38 passes (66 percent) for 290 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and quarterback rating of 106.3. And according to Pro Football Focus those numbers were even better when Mariota was under pressure, as he completed 9-of-11 passes (82 percent) for 131 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 155.9.

The Titans may need another strong performance from their young quarterback next week when they travel to Soldier Field to face the Chicago Bears.