NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The drought is over. The Tennessee Titans finally beat the Indianapolis Colts, 36-22, after 11 consecutive losses, and they did so on the back of a gimpy, pocket-passing Marcus Mariota and a heroic second-half performance by their much-maligned defense.
Franchise quarterbacks rise to the occasion and Mariota did so Monday, helping wake up a dormant Titans defense with clutch third-down completions and what ended up being the game-winning 53-yard touchdown to Taywan Taylor.
It was Mariota’s fifth career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, and he got it by digging deep for a 15-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that put the Titans ahead 22-19 after they trailed for most of the game. Mariota went 8-of-8 for 76 yards on that drive, including key completions to Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker, who had his best game as a Titan.
The Titans (3-3) are in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC South with a very manageable schedule down the stretch.
“It’s part of the game. I think throughout the season there’s points in time when you’ve got to play a little hurt,” Mariota said. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the guys up front and the receivers are doing a great job of finding separation. We were just able to execute and make plays and we came out on top.”
Mariota finished 23-of-36 with a season-high 306 yards, a touchdown and a pick-six that was forgotten by the end of the game.
Mariota’s footwork and passing accuracy was the best it has been all season. He used play action to perfection, going a crisp 10-of-11 and throwing for a career-best 186 yards off the fake.
Still, Mariota clearly was not 100 percent. He didn’t even attempt to run outside of an extremely important and successful fourth-quarter QB sneak. He only threw one pass outside of the pocket, a throwaway. But Mariota being forced to remain in the pocket could help his confidence in the long run.
Derrick Henry capped it off with a 72-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. He ended with a career-high 131 rushing yards.
The Titans defensive performance may be lost because of Mariota’s great day but it shouldn’t be. It was entirely different bunch in the second half, and credit defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for the appropriate halftime adjustments. Tennessee came out attacking effectively with tighter coverage in the back end and strong run defense.
Titans cornerback Logan Ryan deserved major props for his efforts against Colts star receiver T.Y. Hilton. Rookies Adoree’ Jackson and Jayon Brown, who had two key pass breakups, also played a huge role in shutting the Colts down in the second half.
Brissett went 6-of-17 for 73 yards in the second half after going 12-of-17 for 119 yards in the first half.
It was all capped off by veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard tracking down a scrambling Jacoby Brissett on the Colts final fourth down comeback attack. He grabbed his ankles at the last moment preventing Brissett from reaching the first down marker before he went out of bounds. It’s been a great season for Woodyard and he secured a Titans win with that play.