And in dramatic fashion on Monday Night Football, the Titans returned to their winning ways, beating the Colts 36-22 before an enthusiastic crowd at Nissan Stadium.
“It’s a huge boost for us,” linebacker Brian Orakposaid. “We haven’t beaten this team in a long, long time. Now we are back in the hunt, back at 3-3. Beating this team was a huge boost for our confidence. We can finally move on. It’s a whole new era with this Titans team, and that’s one thing I’m very proud of.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Titans, but the team closed strong, and picked up a critical win by making big plays down the stretch.
Mariota connected with rookie receiver Taywan Taylor for a 53-yard touchdown pass with 5:29 left to give the Titans a 29-22 lead.
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard then forced Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett out of bounds short of a first down on a fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 13-yard line with just 2:19 remaining.
When the Titans got the ball back, running back Derrick Henry scored on a 72-yard touchdown run with 47 seconds left to seal it for the Titans.
With the win, the Titans improved to 3-3. The Titans also moved into a three-way tie atop the AFC South with the Texans and Jaguars. The Colts dropped to 2-4.
The Titans also snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Colts.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about the streak,” Henry said. “We definitely wanted to bring that to an end.”
Tight end Delanie Walker said the primary goal was to right the ship after back-to-back losses.
“We really didn’t talk about the streak or nothing like that,” Walker said. “All we cared about was getting back on track and winning football games. We never gave up, and winning in this game is motivation moving forward.”
Mariota completed 23-of-32 passes for 306 yards and a touchdown in the game. Mariota missed last week’s game at Miami with a hamstring injury.
“Huge, huge,” Mariota said of the win. “(I am) proud of the guys in the locker room. It was one of those where you have to kind of grind it out a little bit, have to trust the process. Coaches did a great job of doing some second half adjustments and we were just able to execute and finish the game.”
Henry finished with 131 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries for the Titans. On a night when the Titans handed out “Exotic Smashmouth” t-shirts to fans, the Titans ran for 168 yards.
“It was great,” running back DeMarco Murray said. “Obviously, it started with the offensive line. We just kept pounding away, you know taking it one play at a time, one run at a time. You know it was tough early on, but we continued to just stay with it. (Terry) Robiskie kept calling the run game and the offensive line kept doing it. Derrick (Henry) and myself, you know, found a crease here and there and he popped one late. That was huge for us. It sealed the victory, so it was great for us.”
The Titans were frustrated early because of failures in the red zone.
After getting five straight field goals from kicker Ryan Succop, the Titans finally broke through and took the lead in the fourth quarter on a three-yard touchdown run from Murray with 10:01 left. It gave the Titans a 22-19 lead. But the Colts tied it at 22-22 on a 52-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri with 7:27 left.
Then came Taylor’s touchdown, which electrified the Nissan Stadium crowd.
“It was a great play call by the coaches,’” said Taylor, clutching the football from his first career touchdown in the locker room. “I think he called it at the right time. We had the look we wanted on defense, so everybody did their job executing and I just tried to do a great job of finishing up the play and making the catch.”
It was the Succop show early.
The Titans took a 3-0 lead on Succop’s 48-yard field goal. The kick was Succop’s 47th in a row from inside the 50-yard line, and that set a new NFL record. But the Colts answered back with a 36-yard field goal by Vinatieri, which tied the game at 3-3.
The Titans put together another nice drive when they got the ball back. But settled for another Succop field goal, this one from 32 yards, to make it 6-3.
The Colts responded once again, however. Brissett connected with tight end Jack Doyle for an eight-yard touchdown to make it 10-6 with 10:54 left in the second quarter. A 12-play, 72-yard drive for the Titans was capped off with a 40-yard kick by Succop with 4:10 left in the second quarter, making it 10-9 Colts.
The Colts extended the lead to 13-9 at halftime on a 25-yard field goal by Vinatieri.
The Colts took a 19-9 lead early in the third quarter when linebacker John Simon intercepted Mariota and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. The extra point by Vinatieri was missed.
Then came two more field goals from Succop, from 48 and 23 yards, to make it 19-15 at the end of the third quarter.
The Titans took control down the stretch.
And pulled out a big win.
The Titans travel to Cleveland to face the Browns next Sunday.
“That was an important game, I told that to the players last night,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “These are the games we have to win. We have set a goal, that goal can only be achieved by winning these types of games and that’s a fact. They know that, they know how big a game it was.”