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Michael Pittman Jr. scores walk-off TD in OT as Colts earn season sweep over Titans

Football is truly a three-dimensional sport and all three phases can affect the outcome.

Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. makes a catch during training camp at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. — August 16, 2022
Thomas Butler-Guerrero

Michael Pttman Jr. hauled in the game-winning touchdown as the Indianapolis Colts escaped Nashville with a 31-28 walk-off win in overtime to earn the season sweep over the Tennessee Titans.

Football is truly a three-dimensional sport and all three phases can affect the outcome.

Tennessee scored on its fourth play from scrimmage as running back Derrick Henry dashed left for a 22-yard TD run. Indianapolis retaliated three plays later as Gardner Minshew launched a 39-yard TD to receiver Alec Pierce for his first TD catch this season.

Sunday’s Week 13 affair was the wildest AFC South rivalry game for the Colts in recent memory. After Samson Ebukam “strip-sacked” Titans rookie quarterback Will Levis, sending the football soaring through the air, Julian Blackmon dove to snag the fumble recovery inches from the turf, but fumbled on his return, which was then recovered by Levis.

A designed screen to Henry pushed the drive deep inside Colts territory. Once the Titans reached the red zone, Henry dashed right and broke away from E.J. Speed and Darrell Baker Jr. to set up first-&-goal. Titans’ kicker Nick Folk made a 24-yard chip shot to give the Titans a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Tennessee fed King Henry five times on its fifth drive, which ultimately resulted in scoring his second TD on a five-yard run to extend the Titans lead to 17-7. Midway through the first half, Henry had 17 rushing attempts compared to the Colts 16 total offensive snaps. Henry produced 102 rushing yards on 21 carries, but was unable to finish the game after suffering a head injury.

With under three minutes remaining in the first half, Steichen unveiled his best trick yet. A double-reverse flea-flicker, which allowed Minshew to connect with tight end Kylen Granson for a 46-yard reception to knock on the door of the end zone. On third-&-goal, Minshew tried to scramble inside the pocket, but was strip-sacked from behind by former-Colt Denico Autry, which allowed cornerback Elijah Molden to recover the fumble and halt the scoring opportunity inside the red zone.

Colts kicker Matt Gay managed to slice his second field goal inside the right post to cut the deficit to 17-13 before halftime and made all four FGs from 23, 46, 23 and 28-yards out.

Colts right tackle Braden Smith left the game in the second quarter and did not return due to a right knee injury. Blake Freeland, the Colts rookie fourth round draft pick, finished the game at right tackle. Last week, Freeland gave credit to offensive line coach Tony Sparano Jr. for developing his fundamental footwork early in his career to be prepared when Sunday’s opportunity arrived.

“It’s just the little things in the pass (protection), in run blocking,” Colts offensive tackle Blake Freeland said. “Just gaining ground on your first step, it’s keeping your hips underneath you.”

“It’s just a lot of little technical things that some coaches really wouldn’t worry about, because they are kind of just like, ‘get the job done. But sometimes when you struggle with getting the job done or struggle with something, there’s always another way to just make it easier on yourself so you can utilize your full abilities. Just get the job done better. We are all capable, it’s just the little things that make our job a little bit easier.”

Minshew orchestrated a 19-play scoring drive to begin the third quarter, which was the longest offensive drive for the Colts since 2017. The fifth-year veteran completed 26-of-42 pass attempts for 302 passing yards to lead Indianapolis to its fourth consecutive win. Despite Tennessee possessing the football for nine minutes longer than the Colts and converting just 3-for-14 on third down, Indianapolis’ special teams unit came up with clutch plays to best its divisional rivals on the gridiron.

At the end of the third quarter, Nick Cross burst through to block the Titans’ punt and Grant Stuard scooped up the loose ball to score a punt return TD. Minshew found a way to spoil the momentum, throwing an interception on the ensuing two-point attempt and allowing Amani Hooker to return the pick to the house, which set the score at 22-19.

Colts gunner Tony Brown Jr. blitzed free off the edge to force a fumble on the Titans’ next punt attempt, which was recovered by Segun Olubi inside the Titans’ six-yard line to set up Matt Gay’s third successful field goal.

In the fourth quarter, Tennessee called for its own trick play from midfield as Levis found Nick Westbrook-Ikhene wide open inside Colts territory. After a designed screen for backup RB Tyjae Spears set up goal-to-go, Levis delivered a dart on a slant to WR Deandre Hopkins for his fifth TD reception of the season to tie the game 25-25.

After the Titans received the kickoff to begin overtime, DeForest Buckner and Eric Johnson teamed up to sack Levis. The Colts sacked Levis six times in Week 13, led by Samson Ebukam and Kwity Paye with 2.0 each.

Consecutive penalties – including pass interference against Jaylon Jones on second-&-20, followed by an offsides penalty against Taven Bryan – placed the Titans inside Colts territory. Tennessee fed Spears to attack the ground and cut inside to pick up the first down and reach Folk’s kicking range to strike a 46-yard FG to give the Titans a 28-25 lead with 4:19 left in OT.

Minshew was poised while trailing and continued to target Pittman, who finished with a season-high 11 receptions for 105 receiving yards. After Pittman drew an illegal contact penalty to place the offense at its own 41-yard line, Minshew delivered the play of the game by launching a missile to Pierce on a stem-go route for a 55-yard gain to place the Colts at the Titans’ four-yard line. Pierce made three catches for a career-high 100 receiving yards.

Indianapolis (7-5) continues its road trip at Cincinnati (5-6) in Week 14.