Posted November 15, 2013

Colts all but clinch AFC South crown with rapid rally past Tennessee

AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans
Donald Brown

Donald Brown ended up being the former first-round running back to step up for the Colts against Tennessee. (Wade Payne/AP)

For about two quarters Thursday night, the Titans appeared primed to make a race of the AFC South. And then, over the course of 25 plays, it was all over.

It will be at least a few weeks until the Colts clinch the division officially, but that’s a mere formality now thanks to their 30-27 win over Tennessee

The Titans, with Ryan Fitzpatrick in for an injured Jake Locker at QB, actually led 17-3 late in the first half. By the time their offense took the field again after a Rob Bironas field goal, Indianapolis had grabbed a 20-17 edge, via two long drives and a costly fumble by Tennessee kick returner Devon Wylie. The Colts ran 24 plays in a row and gained a first down via pass interference on a 25th.

The blitzkrieg ate up the final 2:32 of the second quarter and the first seven-plus minutes of the third. An impressive, sudden turn of events that essentially cemented the Colts’ first AFC South title since 2010.

“Great team victory, on the road, for a division game,” Andrew Luck said. “We know Tennessee’s always salty, always tough, so we’re fortunate and happy to get a win.”

Luck completed 12 passes during that 17-point spurt — more than half of the 23 he hit on the night. And he gave Indianapolis its first lead of the night with his leg, scrapping a quick pass attempt to Griff Whalen in favor of an 11-yard TD scramble up the middle.

He finished the night with 232 yards passing, 31 rushing (nine more than Trent Richardson, for what it’s worth) and recorded yet another come-from-behind victory.

“Andrew’s an amazing guy to play with,” Indianapolis tight end Coby Fleener told the NFL Network’s Alex Flanagan. Fleener finished with career highs in catches (eight) and yards (107). “He’s an awesome leader and an awesome player. I’m at a loss for words for how good he is.”

BURKE: Colts’ Walden could face fine, suspension for headbutt vs. Titans

The Colts have trailed now in six of their seven victories, so their penchant for slow starts warrants some concern. Their ability to tranquilly regroup  – last week’s embarrassing 30-point home loss to St. Louis aside — has allowed them to separate from the pack in the AFC South.

“I think at the end of the day winning is what matters,” Luck said. “We’re fortunate in this game to survive our mistakes. We know that’s gotta be fixed and we’ll work on it in practice. “

The subplot in all of the Colts’ 2013 success is that high-profile trade for running back Trent Richardson. He rushed for 22 yards and hauled in five receptions, but he also took a backseat to 2009 first-round pick Donald Brown.

For the first time in his NFL career, Brown found the end zone twice. He capped Indianapolis’ initial drive after halftime with a six-yard TD scamper, then later cemented the victory by blasting through the line on an 11-yard score. Brown’s second-half eruption offset the hot start pieced together by Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, who had 62 yards and two TDs of his own in the first quarter.

More than that, Brown’s performance restored balance to an Indianapolis offense that has been unable to churn out much of anything on the ground, despite going all-in on that Richardson deal.

“I think Trent does just as wonderful a job, something that’s how the chips fall,”  said Luck of Brown taking the reins in Tennessee. “Donald’s a great professional, great teammate, great person, so I’m happy he played this well.”

If the Colts can win in Arizona next Sunday, they’ll have a chance to lock up the division in two weeks when the Titans visit Indianapolis. That’s a dramatic reversal from where things would have been if Tennessee had converted its early momentum Thursday into a victory. In that scenario, the Colts’ AFC South lead would have been trimmed to one game, with that Week 13 rematch looming.

The Titans had everything headed in the right direction for a long while, too. In truth, the Colts appeared to be on the verge of a full meltdown in the first half, highlighted by a stretch in which they took personal foul penalties on three straight plays (the most egregious being Erik Walden’s headbutt of Delanie Walker).

But it was right as Tennessee pushed Indianapolis to the brink that the Colts began their slow burn back.

“I think everything went to game plan for us … no, I’m just kidding,” Fleener joked on the NFL Network’s postgame show. “Obviously, starting like that is all too familiar … but we’re happy to have a win, regardless.”

Now, Indianapolis can set its sights on bigger game, such as catching New England for a playoff bye. Even if that’s not in the cards, only a catastrophic collapse would keep the Colts from a division crown and at least one home playoff game.

This game was far from a perfect one for the likely AFC South champs. Down the line, when the postseason rolls around, the Colts will need to find a way to perform at their highest level for a full 60 minutes.

Thursday, though, they needed only 25 plays to drop the hammer.

14 comments
horsley1953
horsley1953

So the Colts are back to coming from behind to win again. It would be nice if they could occasionally get an early lead and keep it.

MMoney0021
MMoney0021

The loss of Reggie Wayne is killing this passing game.  As  Pats fan I am hoping we get to play Indy in the playoffs- probably 2 vs 3 seed.  The O-Line is terrible, the wide receivers outside of Hilton are terrible, and the running game is average at best.  Indy looked scary good when they beat Denver a few weeks back, but look like a fringe playoff team now.  Luckily their division stinks.  

beast
beast

Walden's actions are more than just a violent incident, it shows he has little understanding or care about causing serious and possibly permanent damage to other players.  

Walden should not be allowed to return to the NFL until he has completed extensive psychiatric evaluations and therapy and has received education on the dangers of such attacks. 

Walden's ignorance level is a threat to himself and others and possibly an indication of greater problems and perhaps even an indication of behavior like that of Aaron Hernandez in his private life. Walden should be thoroughly investigated. 

Thomas15
Thomas15

"MORE THAN JUST LUCK"????  Well we're going to see. I've been having it drummed into my head by the football commenting echo chamber about how Luck is the real-deal and future Hall of Famer while Nick Foles has just been lucky. 7 TD's in 1 game? Lucky. 16 TDs, 0 INT's? Lucky. 132.5 Passer Rating? Yep, just lucky I guess. But Andrew Luck now his pass comp. of 54% that's different. Because he replaced Peyton and was #1 overall. So he's for real while Foles is a fraud. Ok…………we'll see. 

MichaelCoriell
MichaelCoriell

As a Colts fan, love the win, but Walden behavior is unacceptable. He should be gone for the next game. 


R C1
R C1

I don't think you should use blitzkrieg on the 75th anniversary of kristallnacht

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

Did Walden ever get ejected for headbutting a helmetless player? If not, he better count on a suspension.

Could have done some serious damage to Walker's skull. 

JahliSuwaghaman
JahliSuwaghaman

@horsley1953 Jumping to an early lead and then unleashing pass rushes on opposing teams trying to come back was the signature of the Manning-led Colts.  Not that Luck isn't capable but, he needs an o-line that can block for longer than 1.9 seconds.  (and Allen, Wayne, Ballard, etc. next year)

JahliSuwaghaman
JahliSuwaghaman

@MMoney0021 : The AFC East has mostly stunk for a decade too.  That Pats rode the wave of Fins/Jets/Bills futility to division titles year after year.  The Fins and Jets are barely halfway respectable this year and for MOST of the last decade the AFC South was the superior conference to the East.  The South holds the record for best out-of-division record in league history too during that stretch. 


This year, I'll give you that the South is pathetic.  The Titans are throwing away games and the Jags are never in games (except last week against Tennessee).  The Texans are statistically a dominant team!  Yet, they lose game after game too....

JahliSuwaghaman
JahliSuwaghaman

@Thomas15 Nothing against Foles but, how are Caepernick and RG3 playing this year?  Teams have film on them and their tendencies and have adjusted.  Nick Foles might be great but, he's still an unknown.  His 'flash in the pan' start might lead to him being the next Tom Brady... or the next Rex Grossman.  


Obviously you have an inferiority complex because your teams's QB isn't mentioned on the air enough for your liking.... feel free to tune into Philly radio if you want to hear about the Iggles. 

HugoMouro
HugoMouro

@R C1 Spot on. But does he even know what you are talking about?

MMoney0021
MMoney0021

@JahliSuwaghaman @MMoney0021 All I am talking about is this year!  I am well aware that the AFC East outside of the Pats and Jets has completely stunk up the joint in past seasons but that has not prevented the Patriots from having consistent success in the month of January.  

Like I said earlier, Indy with Reggie Wayne a few weeks back looked like a serious contender.  Since that Denver game they have lost their identity on offense.  From what looked to be a serious contender now looks like a serious one and done.