You know the saying. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Unfortunately for the Tennessee Titans, neither was very good against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
The Titans struggled out of the gate in getting down 14-0 early on, and then somehow managed to give away a 13-point fourth quarter lead in losing their second straight game.
For as bad as the start and the finish were, everything in between once again gave Titans fans a glimpse of how special this team could be.
The defense gave Colts quarterback Andrew Luck fits during the stretch that Tennessee actually looked like a legitimate playoff contender, with the offense then capitalizing on Indy’s mistakes. This was exactly what everyone wanted to see.
At that point, both units were reaching their potential. And then, of course, it all fell apart.
It was as if fans were given the opportunity to flash back to the head-scratching events of 2014 on several occasions. After the Colts cut the lead to 27-21 midway through the fourth quarter, a rookie mistake by Marcus Mariota allowed Luck and company to score another touchdown in only one play, giving the Colts the lead.
But give the Titans credit. They could have given up and been done. However, Mariota rallied the offense to a touchdown with under a minute to go, and only a two-point conversion stood in the way of sending this crucial AFC South clash to overtime.
Then came the two-point conversion. It was not pretty. After a Colts penalty gave the Titans the ball at the one-yard lead with a chance to tie it up, head coach Ken Whisenhunt called a play that everyone saw coming. Especially the Colts defense.
Tennessee tried to run the ball up the middle, and instead, saw running back Jalston Fowler lose nearly 20 yards on the attempt.
It felt like 2014. It felt like a play that the Titans should not be making at this stage.
But yet here we are. A dominating performance in Week 1 has now been followed up with two winnable games that resulted in losses.
The Titans didn’t deserve to win in Cleveland, but it was still a winnable game. And ultimately, after making key mistakes down the stretch against the Colts, the Titans didn’t deserve that win, either.
This is what separates average teams from great teams. The average teams find a way to lose games. The great teams find a way to win games.
At this point, we can’t in good confidence declare that the Titans are anything more than an average team. Even with Mariota exceeding expectations thus far, this team still isn’t where it needs to be.
The small mistakes make a big difference. Mistakes like Kendall Wright nonchalantly failing to stay inbounds on a catch during that third quarter drive that could have resulted in a 31-14 scoreline instead of a 27-14 scoreline. And even Mariota’s mistake that allowed the Colts to go from confident to having all the momentum in the world on their side.
Simply put, the Titans have to find a way to move beyond these mistakes. Winning game one of four straight at home would have been a huge step in the right direction.
But now, as Tennessee heads into its bye week, the pressure of 1-2 will set in.
Maybe it’s not so much the pressure of 1-2 as it is the fact that you were so close to finally getting over the hump. The Titans were so close to ending the Colts’ rampant run through the division, and in the process, declaring that a new era had dawned in Nashville.
That will have to wait a while longer. This loss proved that the Titans are still in transition. But with an offense that is as good as its been in a while and a defense that is being run by the legendary Dick LeBeau, progress must be made.
In today’s sports landscape, that progress is only measured by winning. Until the Titans do more of that, the pressure will continue to build.