By John Glennon – TitansOnline.com
When the Titans won at Jacksonville in the second week of the season, it marked the team’s first AFC South road victory since 2013.
When the Titans downed Indianapolis last month in Nashville, it brought an end the Colts’ 11-game overall winning streak against them.
And when the Titans rallied past the Colts 20-16 on Sunday, it marked the end of yet another ugly streak. The Titans won for the first time in their last 10 trips to Indianapolis, a stretch that extended back to 2007, the year before Lucas Oil Field came into existence.
So as difficult as it might have been to believe when the Titans trailed 16-6 in the third quarter – and couldn’t seem to move the football at all – they’ve now taken another big step toward their goal of winning the division.
They’re 3-1 in the AFC South, with two divisional home games remaining – next Sunday against Houston and on Dec. 31 against Jacksonville.
No one ever said progress had to be pretty.
“This time of year, all these games are very important,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “You want to win the division? You’ve got to win division games, and you’ve got to win them on the road.”
The Titans won this game in large part because they found success playing Titans-style football just in the nick of time.
Up until the Titans’ second-to-last drive of the game, they struggled to produce holes in the running attack, and struggled to find them when the holes were there.
The result at that point? A total of 15 carries for just 22 yards.
But as Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie mentioned earlier in the week, he likes to stay patient with the running attack, figuring the combination of his offensive line and the two backs will eventually make a difference.
That’s exactly what happened in the late going.
All of a sudden, Henry ripped off chunks of 10 yards, seven yards, 14 yards and nine yards, guiding the Titans on a nine-play, 77-yard touchdown drive.
“Everybody was blocking in front of me,” Henry said. “The offensive line did a great job the second half – tight ends, everyone, just a great job blocking. Everybody just did their job. That’s what we said in the huddle. `Do your job and plays are there to be made.’ That’s what we did.”
One series later, the Titans took over in the perfect four-minute situation, in possession of both the lead and the football. They never returned either to the Colts, mashing out another nine-play, 64-yard drive that lasted until the final whistle.
All but eight of those yards came on the ground, meaning Tennessee piled up 70 of its 92 rushing yards on its last two drives.
“It felt great to be able to hold the ball and run effectively,” Henry said. “We knew we just had to stay patient, keep believing in the gameplan. We knew it would open up, and when it did, we got the win.”
Does the Titans’ fifth win in the team’s last six games mean all is well for this club?
It does not.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, for instance, must find a way to return to the efficient, largely error-free style that made him so successful in his first two seasons. Mariota posted a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 45 to 19 in his first two years, but that ratio stands at nine touchdowns to 12 interceptions this season.
There’s little doubt part of the problem is a lack of chemistry with receivers like Eric Decker, Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor, all of whom are in their first season with the Titans. In addition, Mariota, Decker and Davis all missed significant chunks of the offseason and or training camp, time that could have been spent working out the kinks.
But in the big picture, let’s remember for a moment how long it’s been that this team has wandered in the wilderness.
The Titans haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, recording just two winning seasons over the past eight years.
So as concerning as some of the Titans’ flaws may yet be, take a moment and soak in the progress made record-wise over the past two years. The Titans have now won seven of their first 11 games for the first time since that memorable 2008 season.
Winning the AFC South is still very much in this team’s hands, especially given the victory in Jacksonville earlier this year. The Titans haven’t captured the division title since Chris Johnson, Keith Bulluck and company did so in 2008.
But you can bet that’s the next streak this team would love to smash.