Are you ready to believe in this Titans team?
Tennessee got their fifth win in the last six games and they did it by overcoming their long time nemesis on the road. It wasn’t always the prettiest game for the Titans. Two early turnovers and five first half sacks dug an early hole and by the end of the Colts opening drive of the second half they found themselves down 17-7.
The offense answered with a quick 75-yard touchdown drive keyed by 60 Derrick Henry rushing yards. The touchdown run came on a 4th and 1 at the Colts 13. A Kevin Byard interception would set up a game tying field goal shortly thereafter, but after trading punts for the next few drives, it looked like the Colts were going to take the lead with just over five minutes left in the game.
However, a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown put the Titans up 24-17 and then a Logan Ryan interception set up a Ryan Tannehill to Kalif Raymond touchdown to put the game on ice. It was the exact opposite of almost every Titans-Colts matchup of the past 15 years. When it came down to crunch time, the Titans were the team that made the plays while the Colts shrunk from the moment.
The win pushes the Titans to 7-5, tied with the Steelers for the second wildcard spot and just a half game behind the Texans in the AFC South heading into their matchup with the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. Tennessee continues to control it’s own destiny in the division race with two games remaining against Houston in Weeks 15 and 17.
All the playoff scenarios can be worked out later, but for now, let’s enjoy this massive win by going through the Winners and Losers from Titans 31, Colts 17.
Derrick Henry: Winner
The game wasn’t perfect for Henry. He lost a fumble on his very first carry of the game — his second straight week with a lost fumble — but Henry bounced back and finished the game with 149 yards on 26 carries (5.73 YPC) and a touchdown on the ground. That makes him the fifth back in NFL history to run for at least 149 yards and touchdown in three straight weeks, joining Jim Brown (1958), O.J. Simpson (1976), Eric Dickerson (1984), and Adrian Peterson (2012) on that prestigious list. If he can repeat that stat line a fourth straight time, he’ll be the only running back in NFL history to do it.
Henry has now put himself just 30 yards behind current rushing leader Nick Chubb in the race for the 2019 rushing title. We have four weeks left to play and he’s already set career highs in virtually every statistical category. It’s a joy to watch him play right now.
Ryan Tannehill: Winner
Like Henry, Tannehill had a bad early fumble and he also took a few sacks that he shouldn’t have, contributing to the five first half sacks that stalled the offense early. However, he was once again accurate — completing 17 of his 22 attempts (77.3%) — and effective when he did get the ball out, picking up 8.3 yards per attempt and 2 touchdowns through the air. His best throw of the game put the Colts away as he dropped an absolute dime to Kalif Raymond for a 40-yard touchdown on 3rd down just outside of field goal range.
Tannehill isn’t perfect — the fumbles continue to be an issue as does the high rate of pressures converted to sacks — but what he brings to the table is far more than what he takes away. The Titans offense centers around Henry, but Tannehill is doing a great job of giving them teeth when they do go to the air.
Harold Landry: Winner
I feel like these top three have been pretty much stapled to the top of this post for the last month and for good reason. Landry continues to pile up sacks, getting his 9th of the season and adding a pressure that forced the bad throw that landed in Kevin Byard’s arms. He now has a sack in five straight games, becoming just the fifth player in franchise history to accomplish that feat (Sean Jones, William Fuller, Jevon Kearse, and Brian Orakpo are the others).
The Pass Blocking: Loser
There are layers to this discussion as usual. Not every sack is the fault of the offensive line and that was true today as it usually is, but I think it’s fair to say that the offensive line struggled to pick up the Colts pass rush all day. Six sacks total is clearly too many and it’s been a major recurring issue on third downs. This has to get better down the stretch.
The Run Blocking: Winner
That being said, it’s not fair to say “the offensive line is garbage” either. They helped clear the way for Henry’s big day and they continue to really click in the run game. Henry seemed to consistently find a ton of room on the right side behind Jack Conklin and Nate Davis after wearing the Jaguars out on the left a week earlier. The Titans offensive line deserves as much credit for the run game as they deserve blame for the sacks. It’s a give and take with this group.
Austin Johnson: Winner
The fourth year defensive tackle has had a mostly disappointing career to this point, but he showed up BIG today with a tackle for loss, a QB hit, and a blocked field goal in the game. He was active around the line of scrimmage and helped limit the usually potent Colts ground attack to just 82 total yards on 3.4 yards per carry.
Kamalei Correa and Jurrell Casey: Winners
Correa finished with 6 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery in this game. He appeared to be the primary beneficiary of the Titans being without Cameron Wake and Reggie Gilbert in this game. Correa hasn’t always been my favorite, but credit where it’s due... he’s played well in recent weeks.
Casey stuffed the box score with 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, and 3 QB hits in a vintage Casey performance. He’s been quieter than usual this year as he’s dealt with injuries both before the season and during it, but if he’s about to come on late in the season that would be a big boost for the Titans defense.
Dane Cruikshank, Joshua Kalu, Tye Smith, and Craig Aukerman: Winners
The biggest play of the game featured all three of these guys. With the game tied at 17 and just over 5 minutes remaining, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri lined up for a 45-yard try to give Indy the lead, but Cruikshank had other ideas.
With the Colts edge blocker giving extra attention to Kalu on the outside after his heroics against KC, Cruikshank hurdled inside and arrived in plenty of time to block the kick with ease.
The ball bounced right into the path of Tye Smith — who would also force a fumble late in the game to help close things out — and he took care of the rest, running it into the end zone for the game winning touchdown.
It was a great play from all three and we should give credit to the man in charge of the Titans special teams, Craig Aukerman. His field goal block unit has made key plays in two of the Titans last three wins.
A.J. Brown and Corey Davis: Losers
Both guys had some nice moments — Brown finished with 45 yards on 3 grabs while Davis had one nice catch for 23 yards — but they also had one bad let down each. Davis’ was a dropped pass on a 3rd down that he should have had, contributing to the Titans clunky start on offense. Brown’s was the controversial catch-fumble call that wound up being ruled an incomplete pass because of a lack of clear recovery even though the official said it should have been called a catch and fumble. Confusing, I know. Either way, Brown has to do a better job of holding onto the ball after the catch.
Kalif Raymond: Winner
Raymond was targeted just once, but it was a beauty as he hauled in a 40-yard strike from Tannehill to put the game on ice late in the 4th quarter.
Logan Ryan and Kevin Byard: Winners
They weren’t particularly high difficulty interceptions, but the Titans two veteran leaders in the secondary both found themselves in the right place at the right time to get their hands on Jacoby Brissett passes.
It was the 4th interception of the year for both players as they remain tied for the team lead. Byard pulls back into a tie for 2nd in the NFL in picks since he entered the league in 2016. Both players rank among the top 25 in the category since 2013 (Ryan’s first year in the league).
Brett Kern: Winner
Another guy who could be here each week. Kern extended his NFL lead in punts downed inside the 20, dropping 4 of his 5 inside that range including a long of 62 yards. He’s the best punter in the NFL and I’m not sure there is a close second right now.
Jeffery Simmons: Winner
Big Jeff didn’t stuff the box score, but he was regularly seen getting push into the backfield in this game, including this demolition of All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson.
The rookie’s raw power is still breathtaking and it’s only going to get better as he refines his technique and fully recovers from his ACL surgery.
Mike Vrabel: Winner
Vrabel got on the board in his rivalry with fellow second year coach Frank Reich and he did it by pressing all the right buttons from a game management standpoint. He went two for two on his challenges and his call to go for it on 4th and 1 during the Titans first drive of the second half proved to be huge in pulling back some momentum after the Colts had gone up 10.
Vrabel got some heat early in the year and much of it was earned, but he’s got his team playing their best football over the last month and seems to have cleaned up some of the bizarre game management issues. He’s now 16-12 as Titans head coach, which ties Reich for the second best mark among the 2018 coaching class behind only the 18-10 Matt Nagy in Chicago.
Vrabel will need to keep this team heading in the right direction over a tough closing stretch, but this Titans team suddenly looks pretty dangerous with four weeks to play.