One coach played not to lose, and lost.
One coach played to win, and won.
With the most accurate kicker in NFL history from 50-plus yards at his disposal, Tennessee Coach Mike Munchak eschewed a potential game-winning 58-yard attempt in the final minute of regulation, presumably because he didn’t want to give the Colts good field position in the event of a miss.
Munchak’s kicker, Rob Bironas, has made 72.4 percent of his kicks from at least 50 yards – including 18 of his last 22 – and had a strong wind at his back, so the Titans coach wasn’t exactly playing the percentages.
“(It was) about 59 yards, you know, too much time left to leave them the ball there,” Munchak said. “And even if we make it, again if he makes it, they get the ball and still have a chance to do something, but I just thought it was too far at that point.”
Fast forward to the overtime coin flip. That same wind was whipping from one end of the stadium but when the Colts won the toss, interim coach Bruce Arians didn’t hesitate. He took the ball, even though it meant putting the wind at the Titans’ backs, should they stop the Colts.
Turns out, that possibility didn’t enter into his mind.
“The wind wasn’t going to matter because we were going to score a touchdown,” Arians said. “We’re going to take the ball first in overtime every time. I don’t care if it’s a hailstorm, we’re going to take the ball and go win the game.”
The Colts took the wind out of the equation and ultimately from Tennessee’s sails, running seven times on the game-winning drive to set up the Titans, then knocking them out with a screen pass from Andrew Luck to Vick Ballard that covered the final 16 yards – ending with the rookie’s reverse corkscrew dive to the pylon that delivered the Colts a 19-13 victory Sunday at LP Field in Nashville, TN.
Without another Arians gamble, it wouldn’t have been possible.
Trailing 13-6 late in the fourth quarter, the Colts faced fourth-and-one from the Tennessee eight. Arians went for it, Delone Carter bulled for seven yards and then tied it up on the next play with a one-yard dive with 3:24 remaining.
Not only did the Colts snap their 10-game road losing streak, they improved to 4-3 overall and gave themselves even more reason to believe they can compete for a playoff berth in what is supposed to be a rebuilding season. Tennessee had a two-game win streak snapped and dropped to 3-5.
The Colts benefited from a number of fortuitous decisions from the officials, who called three questionable offensive pass interference penalties against the Titans – one of which wiped out a 43-yard gain, another a touchdown. There was an offsides penalty that wiped out Ballard’s fumble in Colts territory in the second quarter. And then came the big one that could’ve decided the game.
Tight end Dwane Allen fumbled on his way to the turf deep in Colts territory in the closing seconds, with Tennesee’s Alterraun Verner recovering. But officials ruled the play dead by forward progress before the fumble – a call that prevented it from being reviewable.
“When you can win on the road and get that monkey off your back, in a dramatic fashion, an overtime touchdown like that, I think there’s a lot of belief in this locker room that we’re somebody to be reckoned with now.” – Arians
“I don’t have a name for it. I call it, ‘get in the end zone, the game is on the line.’” – Ballard on his game-winning dive.
“We practice that play a couple times a week and it looks really good. When B.A. (Arians) called it from the sidelines I knew it was a good play and as soon as I saw (Andrew) Luck turn around and throw me the ball, it was on and I went to go get the
touchdown.” – Ballard on the game-winning play.
“We got four more wins than everyone thought we would have, so that’s good. We always knew we could be a good football team. We are getting there, we are still not there yet but with a little improvement here and there we can be all right.” – Pat Angerer
“To come down here, against a very good team, a great rivalry within the division—to get a win is big, and to get two wins in a row is big as well. It’s something we’ve talked about, stacking wins together, getting one on the road and we’ll come back next week with more focus, more intensity and hopefully get another one.” – Luck
Luck was pressured most of the day but produced 26 completions on 38 attempts for 297 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Brown returned a week earlier than expected from minor knee surgery and racked up 80 yards on 14 carries, while Ballard added 55 on 12 carries as the Colts again ran effectively, totaling 171 yards and a 5.0 per-carry average. In the past two games, they’ve totaled 316 rushing yards. Reggie Wayne pulled seven receptions for 91 yards. The Colts had 457 net yards and converted 50 percent of their third downs.
Jerrell Freeman led the team in tackles for the seventh straight game with 14. Jerraud Powers had 10 but that was the result of being picked on mercilessly by Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was 22 of 29 for 236 yards and a touchdown – profiting mightily from his tendency to throw to whomever Powers was covering. Ultimately, though, the defense dug in, limiting the Titans to three points in the second half while shutting them out on third down. No turnovers were produced (again), though there were two sacks by Drake Nevis and Jerry Hughes. Tennessee’s biggest threat, running back Chris Johnson, had a nice stat line (99 yards on 21 carries) but broke nothing longer than 14 yards and generally was well-contained.
Adam Vinatieri made a 20-yarder to conclude the Colts’ first drive but had a 37-yard attempt blocked at the end of the first half. He added a 44-yarder in the third period.
Pat McAfee didn’t have a great day punting but continued to mash his kickoffs.
Starting cornerback Vontae Davis left early in the first quarter with a left knee sprain but that appeared to be the most significant entry on the medical log. The Colts did most of the things necessary to win on the road – not the last of which was catching more than a few breaks – but did keep themselves in position to take advantage of those opportunities.
For most of the game, it felt like the Titans were in complete control but the defense did a nice job keeping them out of the end zone while the offense came up with two huge 80-yard drives – in the fourth quarter and in overtime – to pull out the victory. It was anything but a work of art but it was solid. Give the Colts a B-plus for this performance.