The Tennessee Titans had no one to blame but themselves in falling 19-13 in overtime to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
Yes, the Titans were on the wrong end of a questionable no-call on a fumble late in regulation that could have given them a chance to win the game.
The play in question came as officials ruled with 26 seconds to go that a strip by Akeem Ayers against the Colts' Dwayne Allen at the Indianapolis 28-yard line was not a fumble recovery by Alterraun Verner because Allen's forward progress had been stopped on a tackle by Colin McCarthy.
From there, the Colts played for overtime, won the toss and promptly marched 80 yards in the extra time to claim the win.
But as Coach Mike Munchak and the players who spoke after the game indicated, that call is not the reason the Titans now stand 3-5 through the first half of the season instead of 4-4.
“We could sit here and bash the officials for not getting calls,” Munchak said. “You've got to overcome that. It's not why we lost the football game.”
As safety Jordan Babineaux explained the defense's accountability in the loss, “Letting somebody drive the ball on you 80 yards in overtime for the game-winner, that's unacceptable as a defense, especially when you have that kind of lead and that kind of a cushion.”
The reasons the Titans lost to the upstart Colts, who now sit 4-3 behind rookie QB Andrew Luck, is simply they didn't come through when it counted on either side of the ball.
“We definitely didn't make the plays when we needed to make the plays,” Verner said. “Late in the fourth quarter and in the overtime, we didn't make the plays and they made the plays. On those last drives, Luck was very efficient and they just rallied behind him. We made some plays, but we didn't make enough. That was the difference in the game.
“I definitely think it was a fumble, but with the ruling they had about forward progress, I'm not a ref. I don't know how that ruling is supposed to be. But we couldn't rely on that. We still had opportunities to make plays before that.. I'm not thinking that the referees lost the game for us because that should have been a fumble. We had plenty of opportunities way before that and after that.”
Luck's 16-yard pass to Vick Ballard, who was able to dive and just get the football over the pylon as safety Michael Griffin knocked him out of bounds provided the coup de grace to a Titans team that had the upper hand in the game all the way up until 3:24 left in regulation.
That's when the Colts capped another 80-yard drive, this one on a 1-yard TD plunge by Delone Carter that tied the game.
Even then, the Titans still had their chances to pull the game out.
Tennessee steadily marched back upfield and faced second-and-9 from the Indianapolis 41 yard line with 1:15 to play and still holding all three timeouts.
With the wind at their back, the Titans seemed poised to get in position for Rob Bironas to at least try a game-winning field goal. But that's when the wheels came off for Tennessee.
Matt Hasselbeck found Jared Cook wide open over the middle behind Colts linebacker Pat Angerer, but the pass sailed over the tight end's outstretched arms.
“It was cover zero. Nobody was deep,” Cook said. “We had three slants going and it was me vs. a linebacker. I felt like I was open, but that was a hard throw.”
On third down, a pass intended for Kenny Britt instead deflected off Angerer, who was not even looking toward the ball or Britt.
From there, the Titans elected to punt rather than allow Bironas to try a 59-yard field goal. Once that punt was made, the Titans offense never saw the football again.
The Titans defense, which for three-and-a-half quarters turned in its best effort of the season, crumbled late and Luck showed the type of poise that caused the Colts to spend the top pick in the draft on him last April. He completed 26 of 38 for 297 yards with the game-winning TD and one interception.
For the Titans there was little in the way of consolation on Sunday, despite some positives from the defense and a decent day stat-wise from the offense. Hasselbeck was 22 of 29 for 236 yards, and Chris Johnson had another solid game with 99 yard rushing. But it simply didn't add up to a much-needed W.
“That negates all the good that you did do in the game, when you can't finish the game,” Verner said. “It's like a boxer. You can have a great two, three or four rounds, but if you get knocked out in the fifth and can't get up, that's all that matters.”
As Munchak pointed out, “When you lose like this, it's hard to enjoy anything at this moment.”