Thursday night's 30-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts looked like the a microcosm of how the 2013 season has gone for the Tennessee Titans.
It started off well enough, as Tennessee built a 14-0 lead and still led 17-6 at the half, only to come unraveled, just as the Titans have done so this season, slipping to 4-6 after a promising 3-1 start.
The loss also dropped the Titans three games behind the Colts in the AFC South, pretty much extinguishing any hopes of winning the division and dousing their wild-card chances with a healthy dose of reality as well.
The Titans also fell to 2-4 at home, very symptomatic of a team that again played just well enough to lose.
“We're not protecting this house. We're not protecting our home field. We're not getting it done at home of all places. We need to really find out what we're about,” defensive end Derrick Morgan said. “We've got six games left and there's a lot of things that can happen. But it sucks. I'm tired of having this conversation every week. We've got too much talent in there not to get the job done.”
Yet, the Titans' unfinished business at the end of games continues to doom them.
Tennessee came out playing exactly how it wanted to, scoring a touchdown on the opening drive with Ryan Fitzpatrick finding Delanie Walker and Kendall Wright before Chris Johnson ran 30 yards for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.
CJ was back in the end zone again the first quarter, running hard and getting to paydirt from 7 yards out to give the Titans a 14-0 edge.
Following field goals on both sides, including one by Indy's Adam Vinatieri to close the half, the Titans held a 17-6 lead at intermission.
The Titans' field goal drive in between the two by the Colts was aided and abetted by three personal foul penalties on Indianapolis, including one where Eric Walden ripped off the helmet of Titans tight end Delanie Walker and head-butted him.
For the Titans, a commanding halftime lead still wasn't enough.
As they have other games this season, the Colts came roaring back behind quarterback Andrew Luck, and of course, a costly Titans turnover. The third quarter proved to be Tennessee's undoing on Thursday night.
After Indy scored on a 12-play drive to close the half, the Colts went 11 plays to open the second half and drew to within 17-13 on Donald Brown's 6-yard touchdown run.
When new Titans return man Devon Wylie fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Colts recovered at the 20, and Luck cashed in two plays later, doing the honors himself with an 11-yard scramble for a 20-17 lead.
Wylie, just up from the practice squad this week after being signed off the street a week earlier, continued the Titans' misery that has been the return game this season with the game's only turnover.
“I'm not even sure. it was a left return and the ball got kicked right, so it was tough to find a wedge. I was trying to find a hole and crease it. I don't know if somebody got a hand in there or not. I thought I had the ball tight, but it wasn't tight enough,” Wylie said.
Just like that, the Titans lead was gone, never to be found again.
“We gave them a turnover and that cost us seven points,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said, “and you can't do that when you are playing games like this, three-point games, two-point games, and you can't give points away.”
Tennessee would get back within 23-20 on Rob Bironas' second field goal of the game, but when Brown scored with 3:01 left and the Colts in the four-minute offense to close the game, it was clear that Indianapolis would leave LP Field with a victory.
A late touchdown from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Delanie Walker with 1:54 to play proved too little too late to salvage the game, and perhaps the Titans' season. The onside kick that followed was easily recovered by the Colts to seal it.
When it was over, the Titans had only another loss to show for their efforts, and 10
days to try and figure out how their latest loss went wrong, as they travel to Oakland on Nov. 24, the first stop of a three-game road trip that includes Denver and a rematch with the Colts.
“Talking is just getting old. We've got to go out there and make plays for 60 minutes and stop turning these (losses0 and saying we could've won this one and could've won that one,” said Johnson, who had 80 yards in the first half and still managed just 86 yards for the game. “...We definitely know we let one slip away, and at the end of the day, these games slipping away is just getting old.”
The same thing could be said for the Titans' season.