Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Sports

December 1, 2013

NFL: Colts-Titans game could shape AFC South chase

INDIANAPOLIS — The Titans are already in playoff mode.

Win Sunday at Indianapolis, and they can trim the AFC South lead to one game and perhaps chase down the Colts. Lose Sunday, and the Titans will essentially be conceding the division title.

It's the last real chance Tennessee has to make this a race.

"Us losing to them the first time, we lost control of that somewhat as far as what they do," coach Mike Munchak said. "If they happen to slip up and lose a couple more games, then that would be great if we could win our division. We're just looking at it as we can control the wild-card spot now, and that's winning five games."

The timing couldn't be better for the Titans (5-6), who ended a two-game losing streak with a last-minute rally at Oakland to move into the AFC's No. 6 playoff spot. Baltimore's victory over Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving temporarily boosted the Ravens into that spot, but Tennessee can grab it back with a win.

The Titans face a familiar foe, which erased a 17-6 halftime deficit to pull out a 30-27 victory. At the time, it looked like Indy's win would seal the division.

Indianapolis (7-4) is still in control, but after a 29-point loss at Arizona and two embarrassing losses in three weeks, consternation has set in. Nervous fans are calling for changes and team owner Jim Irsay issued a public wake-up call to his team to get things together before they let Tennessee back in this chase.

Now Indy has a chance to take a three-game lead with four to play, plus sweep the season series, giving the Colts the tiebreaker over the Titans.

"We know the magnitude as coaches, as players, and we understand what the expectations are," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We've got a job to do and we're going to work to get that job done."

So for Tennessee, it all starts Sunday afternoon.

"I think we all understand the importance of each game. And as we win games, if we continue to win, then the next game becomes even bigger," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "So it's one of those one-game playoff mentality mindsets for us right now."

Here are five other things to watch Sunday:

INDY BLUES: Indianapolis has not been a hospitable environment for Tennessee. While the Titans did win a playoff game at Indy in 1999, en route to their only Super Bowl appearance, the Titans have lost five straight in the Circle City and are still winless at Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008.

JUMP START: Andrew Luck has been masterful at rallying the Colts. But the Colts haven't given him much choice. Over the last four games, Indy has been outscored 93-12 in the first half, forcing Luck to work his magic in the second half. Somehow, he has rallied the Colts from halftime deficits of 17-6 and 21-3 for wins on the road. Indy is hoping to change that script Sunday with a quick start.

THIRD-DOWN DISCREPANCY: One reason Tennessee is still in the playoff hunt has been its ability to convert third downs. It's also one of the reasons the Colts have struggled recently. The Titans are No. 6 in the league in third-down efficiency and have converted 33 of 59 chances (55.9 percent) since Nov. 3. Defensively, Tennessee is No. 4 in third-down situations. Over the last four weeks, the Colts have converted only 17 of 51 third downs (33.3 percent) and allowed opponents to convert 26 of 54 (48.1 percent).

GROUNDED CHUCK: The slow starts haven't just put more pressure on Luck's arm, it's also forced the Colts out of their more traditional power-running game. Pagano and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton would like to get the running game back in sync after averaging just 18.8 carries over the past four games. The best way to do that is giving the ball to Donald Brown, who is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and has scored four TDs in seven games vs. the Titans.

WALDEN VS. WALKER: The most anticipated one-on-one matchup may be Tennessee TE Delanie Walker vs. Colts LB Erik Walden. The last time they met, a frustrated Walden ripped off Walker's helmet, then head-butted Walker in the forehead. Walden was assessed a 15-yard penalty and later was given a one-game suspension. Could it happen again? Don't bet on it. Walden said he doesn't expect to face any retaliation from the Titans.

 

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