One week ago we were lauding the Tennessee Titans after their decisive conquest of the Patriots. One week later, those same Titans were eaten alive by the Indianapolis Colts, 38-10 (gamebook) (box score).
The list of distressing elements of this one – if you are Tennessee – is long and hard to prioritize. But let’s begin with the defense. The game started with Tennessee as the league’s top scoring defense, having allowed just 151 points. Further, they had allowed the fewest touchdown passes – just 11 through the first 9 games. They came in ranked sixth overall in yardage, and sixth against the pass, as they held opposing passers to just an 89.5 rating. Additionally, they were tenth against the run – allowing just 99.8 yards a game and 3.9 yards a carry.
But, quietly rebuilding after a 1-5 start, the Indianapolis Colts have undergone a kind of re-birth, and the centerpiece has been the offense. Even when they were losing games early, they still scored points. They had scored 260 (nearly 30 per game) as the game began. And in the middle was Andrew Luck.
Andrew Luck burst on the scene back in 2012 as the heir to Peyton Manning. He led the Colts to three consecutive 11-5 seasons and three consecutive playoff berths his first three seasons in the league.
His rising start was interrupted by an injury plagued 2015, and he then missed all of 2017 with arm miseries. The promising career that was Andrew Luck – and the resurgence in Indianapolis – both seemed to have ended before they had truly begun. With the 1-5 start – even with Luck back and starting to look healthy again – 2018 looked like it would be yet another lost year in Indianapolis.
Quietly, the Colts started figuring things out, but it was easy to dismiss the early stages of the turnaround. Victories over the Bills and Raiders (teams that are a combined 5-15) didn’t generate tremendous attention. A tight 29-26 win over Jacksonville made it seem more real – but last years’ division champs have been fading as well. Now 4-5, Indy needed a statement win before they could really be taken seriously. Their dismantling of this Tennessee team more or less qualifies for that.
During the route, Luck completed 11 of 12 second half passes (91.7%) and tossed 2 of the 3 touchdowns passes he had for the game. He finished 23 of 29 for 297 yards and with 143.8 passer rating. He was 9-for-9 throwing to T.Y. Hilton for 155 yards and 2 of the touchdowns.
As I start to sour on the Titans playoff chances, it’s not so much because they lost this game. Even with this loss, their soft remaining schedule still gives them a strong chance. It was a couple of other elements arising from this loss that makes me wonder about the Titans going forward.
One of the elements is the team they lost to. It’s hard not to be convinced by the Colts the way they’ve played their last four games. Their ending schedule is also manageable. The Colts, though, if they earn that final playoff spot will have to do so on the road (they are 2-3 on the road, so far). Their final three road games will be against the division. Before all is said and done, they will go into Jacksonville, into Houston and into Tennessee (for the season’s last game). They will have to earn it.
For that reason, I might still lean toward Tennessee. But here’s the other thing. On a fairly routine sack at the end of the first half, quarterback Marcus Mariota’s day ended. It was a mild re-occurrence of the elbow issue he had earlier in the year and seemed to be over. He is officially listed as questionable for Monday night in Houston.
The injury is sobering, because it means that this is a shadow that will hang over the Titans and their quarterback at least all the rest of this season. Even if Mariota comes back, any random hit – and Marcus is one of those QBs that run an awful lot – could send him to the sidelines and bring in Blaine Gabbert.
As I look at the Titans now, I am not convinced that they will have Mariota on the field enough to make this happen for them.
More Flux in the NFC East
Every week in the NFC East a new front-runner emerges. Two weeks ago, when I first projected the division, I backed the defending champion Eagles to eventually emerge. They have lost two straight games since then, and seem to be in considerable disarray. So last week, I conceded that Washington was probably the team that would enter the playoffs from this division. They not only lost their last game, but their starting quarterback for the rest of the season.
Who’s left? Could it be Dallas? The Cowboy team that was left for dead all those weeks ago?
Don’t look now, but the Cowboys have pulled off back-to-back, must win games against the Eagles and the Falcons. Now, tomorrow the Redskins limp into Irving with first place on the line. Suddenly, everything is before the Cowboys.
Down 14-0 at the half and 22-6 with about half the fourth quarter left, the Minnesota Viking made a spirited comeback against the Chicago Bears. They fell short, but made a game of it, 25-20 (gamebook) (box score). The Vikings found success in their hurry-up offense, throwing underneath the Chicago coverage. When they tried to get greedy, they suffered (Eddie Jackson’s crushing 27-yard interception return coming on one of Kirk Cousins’ last attempted long passes).
After passing for just 57 yards in the first half, Cousins completed 23 of 33 in the second half (69.7%), but for just 205 yards. But he kept moving the chains. Receiver Stefon Diggs was targeted 15 times in the second half alone. He caught 11 of the passes for 93 yards and one of the two second half touchdown passes. Adam Thielen was targeted 7 times in that half, catching 5 for 48 yards.
Whether it’s a blueprint remains to be seen. But for 30 minutes last Monday night, the Bears’ defense seemed to be on its heels a lot.