Titans stumble in finale to Colts, 23-20

INDIANAPOLIS _ Perhaps a fitting end for a Tennessee Titans season that had been fumbled and bumbled away long before Sunday's 23-20 season-ending loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Titans (6-10) waged a spirited battle for much of the day, but managed to lose on Adam Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal as time expired.

It was a fumbled snap exchange between Kevin Matthews and Kerry Collins moments earlier that opened the door for the Colts to claim the victory. The turnover with 1:25 to play led to Vinatieri's game winner and came just two plays after Michael Griffin had recovered a Dominick Rhodes fumble giving Tennessee a seeming chance at the upset by returning the ball to the Indianapolis 37.

The win once again hands the Colts the AFC South crown for the eighth time in nine seasons, while the Titans now prepare for what could be an off-season of drama and upheaval with everything from Coach Jeff Fisher's status to quarterback Vince Young's future potentially in the balance.

When it was over, the Titans could only wonder what happened – much as they would look at the 2010 season that began 5-2 and ask the same thing with just one win in their final nine outings.

“That's the story of our season,” fullback Ahmard Hall said. “You get down there on the 35-yard line and have a chance to win and pull it out, when no one thinks you have a chance to win, and then a fumbled snap. That's the story of our season.”

Said Griffin, who put the Titans in position with his recovery, “I was just running to the ball and I saw it rolling and I just picked it up. I started running and figured I'd get as much as I can ... I crossed the 50 and tried to get down (so) the offense could run one, two or three plays and get that clock to wind down, and just kick a field goal. But it just didn't happen.”

Both the veteran quarterback Collins and his rookie center, the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, took responsibility for the miscue.

“I think the snap was fine, honestly,” Collins said. “I was an outside zone play. If anything I may have just rode in a little too much and the ball squirted out to the right. It's one of those things, you don't every take those things for granted, but within a game, it becomes second nature. It's unfortunate it happened at the time it did.”

Matthews, making his first NFL start in place of injured Fernando Velasco, said not all the blame was with Collins.

“I know I let the whole team down with that snap,” Matthews said. “It's not just on the quarterback. I'm starting the play every snapping the ball, and no matter how it goes, it's on me to get it to him.”

Up until that point, things had gone about as well as the Titans could have hoped. They were in a tie ballgame, and their much-maligned defense had managed to keep Peyton Manning and the Colts offense in check. Manning did have two TD passes, but had just 264 yards on 27 of 41 passing.

Overall, Sunday the Titans avoided the pitfalls that cost them so many games during their collapse. They won time of possession, keeping the football for better than 31 minutes, and got off the field on third downs, holding Manning and the Colts to just a 4 of 11 conversion rate. Still, it was not enough.

“I thought we executed the game plan when we needed to,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “We got them off the field, and we had them flustered at times. At the end of the day, we gave ourselves a chance to win, and we didn't. We lost to a good team.

“I think we had a couple of hits, and we got in Peyton's face the first play of the game and pressured him. I think that was pretty much the theme all day. We got him off the spot when we needed to. Peyton did make some errant throws, but nonetheless he's still Peyton Manning, he's the best in the business.”

Until the fateful fumble, Collins, who turned 38, had gotten the better of Manning in the game. He wound up 28 of 39 passing for exactly 300 yards, the 31st time he has had a 300-yard passing game in his 16-year career.

“It's pretty indicative of what's gone on this year,” Collins said. “That's a good football team we played today. But for us, we haven't obviously just done what we need to to do win a game. Today we were in position. It's unfortunate it came down to what it did.”

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