NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Titans won the AFC South title in their first year in the NFL in 2002. The Titans then went on to watch the Indianapolis Colts win the division crown in seven of the next eight seasons.
The AFC South has been the Colts’ personal playground for years. Now? It all seems like ancient history.
The Titans’ 19-10 win over the Colts on Sunday gave them their fifth straight win over division rivals from Indianapolis and further solidifies the Colts’ recent run as the second best in the division. The Colts haven’t won the AFC South since 2014 – former quarterback Andrew Luck’s third season. Meanwhile, the Titans have won two back-to-back titles and are now in pole position after seven weeks of the season.
And the Titans’ latest win over the Colts underscores why the teams have been on their way: The Titans may have made fewer plays, but they also, as usual, made fewer mistakes. That’s what set the Titans apart under coach Mike Vrabel, even allowing them to win 12 games in 2021 when All-Pro running back Derrick Henry missed nine regular-season games with a foot injury.
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The Titans are the team the Colts want to be.
“They don’t beat themselves,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “That was their whole MO.” They do not defeat themselves. Each team tries to play the same game. The saying goes, “You won’t win until you learn how not to lose.”
Every time the teams play, this seems to be reinforced. In the past three meetings with the Titans, the Colts have committed nine turnovers. The Colts also contributed to sloppy play on the offensive line and poor execution on third downs (4 of 13, 31%) on Sunday.
There was palpable frustration in the Colts locker room on Sunday, as the players realized that much of the blame for the loss rested with them. The Colts defense held the Titans without a touchdown, continuing the unit’s recent string of solid performances. The Colts also outgained the Titans 292 yards to 254 yards.
What the Titans didn’t do was throw a pick-six like Colts quarterback Matt Ryan did in the second quarter, or fumble on a critical possession like Michael Pittman Jr. did. did in the fourth quarter.
“Self-inflicted wounds,” receiver Parris Campbell called them. “We have to score points.” Have to. You can’t go wrong against a team like that. Because he will not lose the game with his attack. Those offenses didn’t do anything crazy. Only Derrick Henry ran the ball.
“You can’t beat yourself.”
Frustration with predictable outcomes against the Titans is wearing on the Colts organization. Owner Jim Irsay held a press conference in August during which he emphasized the importance of the Colts reversing this trend against their primary division rival.
“It’s about Tennessee,” he said. “It’s about winning the division.” It’s about playing against those guys who have been very tough and do a great job of preparing their players to play football in a tough, physical way. So it’s always tough against those guys, but we know that’s what we have to do. That’s what we have to overcome if we want to get where we want to go.”
An interesting subplot in this series is that Vrabel was a candidate for the Colts job when the Colts hired Reich in 2018. The Titans swooped in and hired Vrabel before the Colts decided how to proceed with their own search.
Now, after another Colts loss to Tennessee, Reich’s statements from last week seem almost prophetic.
The Colts, he said, “played right into their hands.” That’s what they expect. We know this team is very disciplined. They take care of the ball, they create turnovers, they are good in front… They are really good and very well coached.”
They are also potentially on their way to another AFC South title.