NFL Week 17 Recap: Colts 23, Titans 20

Just four short weeks ago, the Colts lost a shootout to the Dallas Cowboys in overtime 38-35, dropping the Colts to 6-6 on the season, looking up at the Jaguars in the standings.  Peyton Manning threw four interceptions for the second consecutive week, and two of them were returned for TDs, for the second consecutive week.  Thankfully for the Colts, they still controlled their own destiny, needing wins in their final four games to win the AFC South.

And, like Colts teams we've seen time and time again, that's exactly what they did.

Sunday's 23-20 win seemed highly improbable, especially in regulation, when Dominic Rhodes fumbled right around mid-field with 1:34 to go in the game.  Titans DB Michael Griffin picked up the fumble and returned it to the Colts 37 yard line, well within K Rob Bironas's range already.  For those of you scoreboard watching (myself included), you knew right around this time that the Texans had defeated the Jaguars, thus winning the AFC South for the Colts, regardless of whether they won or not.  It took a little bit of sting out of the fumble, and I had started to come to terms with the Colts being the 4th seed in the playoffs.

Chris Johnson got 3 yards on first down, and it looked like the Titans would just run the clock down, let Bironas win the game for them, and they'd snap their 4 game losing streak to the Colts.  Then, in a season full of bad breaks for the Colts, they finally got a break in their favor, on something Kerry Collins has done hundreds of thousands of times before.  Collins fumbled the under-center snap, and then couldn't fall on the ball when he saw Robert Mathis jumping at the ball.  We all know who won that battle, and that's big #98.

From there, Manning found Blair White on a great back shoulder route 20 yards down the field, and found a wide open Jacob Tamme to get the final 11 yards needed to put the game on Adam Vinatieri's foot.  There was no doubt in my mind he'd split the uprights, which is exactly what he did from 43 yards out, giving the Colts a 23-20 win, something that very few Colts fans though would happen not 10 minutes earlier.  An improbable win in an improbable season for the Colts.

Another big break for the Colts, something that I noticed from the stands but couldn't get any updates on, was Kenny Britt didn't return after he caught a TD pass early in the third quarter.  Britt was killing the Colts, as save for a great play by Justin Tryon in the end zone in the first half, he couldn't cover him man-to-man, and Britt was finding the soft spots in the zone time after time.  It isn't a coincidence the Titans started to stall on offense after he left the game, when they scored points on 4 of their first 6 possessions.  Randy Moss may get all the hype, but Britt is the playmaker.

Some thoughts from the division clinching win:

  • The Titans defense must have been throwing some new wrinkles in, as it seemed like Manning was being pressured more than usual.  It could be that the O-Line just didn't pass protect well, but from the few times I noticed the pass rush, the Titans were bringing 5+ guys each time.  I hope that's the case, and it wasn't a terrible game by the offensive line.
  • Before the TD pass to Pierre Garcon, Manning had tried that exact same route twice before, just missing on it once, and a good play by Jason McCourty on the other.  I think the Colts kept running those WR screens to set up for the bombs, and it worked on the TD pass.
  • Speaking of Garcon, he had a very up and down game.  The TD catch was a great grab, and his block on Reggie Wayne's TD was fantastic as well (and Reggie knew it as well, as he immediately turned around to slap him on the head).  Unfortunately, the drops came back this week, dropping several very catchable passes.  Hopefully they are all out of his system, as the Colts will need him to step up once again in the Playoffs.
  • I mentioned earlier that the Titans offense moved the ball quite well when Kenny Britt was in the game, then all of the sudden they stagnated once Britt was injured.  It was the second time this season the Titans, who weren't a very good offense, drove up and down on the Colts defense.  The Colts did manage to up the pressure a little later in the game, but it was undoubtedly because they didn't have to worry about Britt.  Andre Johnson is no longer the only WR in the division that is scary good.
  • Collins completed 11 passes to RBs for 77 yards, and each time the back was wide open.  I know in the Cover 2 players don't have a specific responsibility, but somebody has to have their eyes in the backfield.  7 yards per completion is way too high for passes to RBs.
  • I can honestly say I'd never heard of an "Illegal Blindside Block", but after looking at the replay, and seeing it in the rules, it was the right call.  It is affectionately known as the "Hines Ward Rule", and it started in 2009.  If Gary Brackett had not hit the Titan in the head, it wouldn't have been an issue.  I'm glad it didn't negate a TD, but that was a hell of an effort from Antoine Bethea on that return.  He did, in fact, just run out of gas too:
    S/o to all my followers and colts fans AND yeah I ran out of gas....

The Colts will now take their four game winning streak into the Playoffs, where they'll play the 6th seeded New York Jets.  Head Coach Rex Ryan has already started running his mouth, saying his team is going to win the Super Bowl, much like they were going to last year.  The game is set for 8:00 ET on Saturday night from Lucas Oil Stadium.

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