INDIANAPOLIS _ Unforgivable.
The Tennessee Titans took a big step toward extinguishing their own playoff hopes, giving the previously winless Indianapolis Colts their first win of the season, 27-13, Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Titans looked listless and flat from the start,and that tone continued throughout the game with the Colts making every big play on Sunday, from Jacob Lacey's 32-yard pick six off Matt Hasselbeck to Donald Brown's backbreaking 80-yard touchdown run to seal it in the final four minutes.
That play came complete with a block from quarterback Dan Orlovsky on Michael Griffin as Brown reversed course and strode in for a touchdown untouched the rest of the way.
“Mistakes, man. Mental mistakes. Too many mistakes, period. Way too many mental mistakes,” receiver Nate Washington said. “I thought (we were past that), too, but it's quite evident that we're not. That's what killed us today – (expletive) mental mistakes, man. Excuse my language. All I can say is we had way too many mental mistakes today to win a ballgame.”
When it was over, the Titans could only blame themselves and wonder how such a loss to an 0-13 Colts team could happen with so much to play for.
“I don't think you can explain it. We've had some games earlier in the season, against Houston and at Pittsburgh, where we ended up not playing well,” Coach Mike Munchak said. “I never would have expected us to come out and they look like they were a team that was going to the playoffs and we look like we were 0-13. That can't be.”
Instead, it definitely was, as Tennessee's offense managed just six first-half points against a Colts defense that came into the day allowing an average of 29 points per game.
The loss doesn't officially eliminate the Titans from playoff consideration, but it does put those hopes on life support with two games left to play against Jacksonville and Houston. At 7-7, the Titans now need help, a game behind Cincinnati and the New York Jets with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Sunday's gut shot was about not taking care of business.
“It's a game we couldn't afford to lose, and we lost it. We are where we are now. We couldn't get anything going, just completely stagnant the whole first half. You can't do that,” guard Jake Scott said. “You can't let a team hang around, and you can't make bad decisions and you can't shoot yourself in the foot. We did everything you can't do if you're trying to win a game.”
After holding a 6-3 lead at the half, the Titans allowed Indy to take the lead 10-6 when Orlovsky found Reggie Wayne from 18 yards out, a drive started by a 15-yard penalty on rookie Tommie Campbell for not staying in bounds on the punt coverage, his second personal foul penalty of the game.
That set the Colts up at the Tennessee 43, and seven plays later, the lead was gone – for good.
Things quickly went downhill for the Titans, as on the next series, Hasselback's pass for Chris Johnson was intercepted by Jacob Lacey, who returned it back 32 yards to make the score 17-6 with 6:31 in the third quarter.
Munchak said Johnson, who had just 55 yards rushing Sunday, had to do more to at least break up the play and keep Lacey from the ball.
“I think he has got to do a better job on that ball,” Munchak said. “At least break it up or make it incomplete. That's bang-bang, and it's hard to tell on the sidelines, but again, that's ball that should've been incomplete or caught and tackled right there.”
The Titans' fortunes only got worse when Marc Mariani muffed the ensuing kickoff and the ball rolled out of bounds inside the 1.
That eventually turned into good enough field position for the Colts to tack on an Adam Vinatieri 43-yard field goal to push the lead to 20-6.
What little hope the Titans appeared to have left to pull the game out, went awry when two straight drives ended in turnovers. A 27-yard pass from Hasselbeck to Jared Cook resulted in a lost fumble when Pat Angerer punched the ball free and the Colts recovered at their own 38.
Then, following that, Angerer struck again on the next series, picking off a Hasselbeck pass in the end zone.
About the only bright spot for the Titans was another too little, too late rally from rookie quarterback Jake Locker, who directed a TD drive at 3:43 to play coming off the bench in relief of Hasselbeck.
Locker, taking mostly checkdowns, underneath and seam routes against Indy's prevent defense, completed 11 of 16 for 108 yards and a touchdown.
That score came on a 7-yard pass to Washington with 3:43 left that gave the Titans a glimmer of hope at 20-13.
But those hopes were soon dashed when Brown, who finished with 161 yards on just 16 carries, took a handoff, started right, eluded the grasp of Akeem Ayers, then got the block on Griffin from Orlovsky and broke into the clear for the game-clinching score.
“We had him locked up for the tackle, and Brown managed to get out of it. I went for the tackle, and the quarterback cut me out,” Griffin said. “And from there, I don't know what happened. But we've got to tackle. That's all I can say is we've still got to tackle.”
With so much to play for, how did the Titans come out so flat and sluggish?
“You look at a team that's 0-13,” defensive end Derrick Morgan said. “Our coaches warned us that they're still a good football team and they still had a lot to play for, but it could have been that we took them too lightly. I think we had a good game plan going into the game, but I don't think we executed it.”
In terms of frustrating losses for the Titans franchise since it came to Nashville, there are the two playoff losses against Baltimore and the 59-0 shellacking at New England. But Sunday's baffling defeat may have a place too, given what was there for the taking, had the Titans taken care of business.
“The most disappointing is the playoff loss to Baltimore, but this is right up there with it. This was essentially a playoff game for us,” Scott said. “We had to win out – I guess we still have a chance – but now it's a real long shot. We had a good chance if we had won these last three, and we didn't take advantage of it.”
Safety Chris Hope said the Titans' .500 record is reflective of what sort of team they are right now – mediocre.
“It's exactly what it is. We're 7-7, and we're playing like an average football team,” Hope said. “We can't sugar-coat it or hide behind anything else. We've had opportunities to set ourselves up nicely, and we haven't taken advantage of it.”