INDIANAPOLIS _ It was a frustratingly familiar outcome for the Tennessee Titans here Sunday in a 22-14 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Titans sacked Andrew Luck five times and forced three fumbles but did not recover any of them Sunday.
Opportunities to win abounded everywhere for Tennessee, but precious few of those chances were realized in a 2013 season that will go down as "what could have been."
The Titans were their own worst enemy in the game, more so than the Colts, for much of the game. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had played well in two previous starts for an injured Jake Locker, reverted by to his turnover-prone incarnation, giving the ball away three times on interceptions and another on a lost fumble.
The defense wasn't without culpability either. They sacked Colts quarterback Andrew Luck five times, and on three of those managed to get the out, but could not recover any of the three loose balls. Additionally, safety George Wilson dropped a sure interception, and most costly was linebacker Moise Fokou's personal foul penalty at the end of the first half that allowed Adam Vinatieri to kick a 37-yard field goal with no time on the clock.
What it added up to was another close loss, a 5-7 record and a team that held the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff chase just a week ago, is back with its playoff hopes on life support again with four games remaining.
"Guys are playing their hearts out, and we always talk about leaving it all on the field. Guys are playing hard, but we're not playing smart," said defensive end Derrick Morgan. "We're not taking advantage of opportunities.
"It's a common trend that's been happening, and I don't have the answers to that."
Receiver Nate Washington was flustered at yet another loss that dropped the Titans to 0-6 all-time in Lucas Oil Stadium and 0-4 in AFC South play this season.
"It almost feels like a curse to this point. We get in these games, and you can see the ebb and flow of the game, but right now, we get in these games and we haven't found a way to get over the hump," Washington said. "I think we've been in pretty much every game this year. We have to find a way to win these games and pull them out . …This is not what you work for. This is not the outcome we expect."
The Colts, meanwhile, pretty much put the wraps on the AFC South, improving to 8-4 with only one more victory or one more Titans loss standing between them and the division title.
It was the foot of Vinatieri that provided Indianapolis' offense for much of the day. When Colts drives stalled out, he was able to salvage points on five different occasions including four field goals in the first half. He connected from 47 and 48 yards in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead.
Tennessee then answered with a touchdown drive early in the second quarter, with Fitzpatrick scoring on a sneak from a yard out as the Titans forged in front 7-6.
That lead was short-lived, however ,as Vinatieri connected from 45 yards away to push Indianapolis in front 9-7. It appeared to stay that way until the end of the first half when Fitzpatrick was intercepted Cassius Vaughn as the Titans were driving, given the Colts possession at their own 36 with 36 seconds left.
From there, the Colts seemed to have been stopped at the Titans 34 with time expiring until Fokou was whistled for a personal foul away from the play. It led to Vinatieri's fourth kick and a 12-7 Colts edge.
"I've got no comment on that," Fokou said. "But it's never good to give points away. It's something we can't do We can't have it."
The good news for the Titans was that they put together perhaps their best drive of the game after taking the second-half kickoff and going 80 yards in 14 plays, and taking the lead on fourth-and-goal with Fitzpatrick's jump pass to Chris Johnson from a yard away.
The TD put the Titans in front 14-12, and Tennessee seemingly was poised to take control of the game after stopping Indy on the next series and moving into Colts territory down to the 28. Instead, disaster struck again for Tennessee, as Fitzpatrick was sacked by Robert Mathis, and the ball came out. Unlike the Titans, the Colts took advantage of opportunity, recovering the ball eventually tacking on another Vinatieri kick, this one from 49 yards, to to back in front, 15-14.
The game stayed that way until late when Indianapolis managed to milk the clock and break through against the Titans defense in the process. Old nemesis Donald Brown essentially put the Titans out of their misery with a 4-yard touchdown run with 1:56 to play.
Tennessee's final drive, fittingly enough, ended with another interception from Fitzpatrick.
"The Tennessee Titans, we're our own worst enemy. That's the biggest difference, when you look at teams playing on Sunday and making winning plays. We're not making winning plays. We're making plays that kill us as a team," safety Bernard Pollard said.
And can kill a season in the process.