Sunday, March 26 2023

By Ben Arthur
FOX Sports AFC South Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Beating the Tennessee Titans has consumed Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. 

After a late September loss to the Titans last season put the Colts at 0-3, he held a meeting for the entire coaching staff and front office, challenging coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard. 

During joint practices with the Detroit Lions in August, Irsay said it was “all about Tennessee” when talking about the importance of winning the AFC South. And in the days leading up to Sunday’s matchup, he tweeted repeatedly how he needed Colts fans to be loud at Lucas Oil Stadium.

All that? Not enough. 

The Titans still dominate this division rivalry. 

Despite second-half struggles and allowing 14 unanswered points to end the game, Tennessee (2-2) held on for a 24-17 victory Sunday over Indianapolis (1-2-1). Boos rained down at Lucas Oil Stadium as the game ended. 

Derrick Henry carries Titans

Derrick Henry rushed for 114 yards and one touchdown in Tennessee’s win at Indianapolis.

It marked the Titans’ fourth straight victory over the Colts and their fourth consecutive win in Indianapolis.

The Titans haven’t lost to the Colts since Week 10 of the 2020 season. 

“Division opponent, great football atmosphere, tough place to play,” said quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who completed 17 of 21 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. “To come play a good team here a few years in a row and get wins, it’s a good thing for the Titans.” 

To get the win, the Titans overcame the third- and fourth-quarter woes that have plagued them early in the season. 

A sack by Colts defensive end Kwity Paye on third-and-8 from the Tennessee 33 with 5:44 left forced a fourth straight Titans punt. But with the Colts later in scoring position, after a 44-yard reception by rookie receiver Alec Pierce put Indianapolis just outside the red zone, Titans defensive lineman Denico Autry — a former Colt — sacked Matt Ryan on third down. 

Titans beat Colts again

Mark Schlereth and Adam Amin weigh in on Tennessee’s 24-17 win at Indianapolis.

Trailing 24-17, the Colts elected for a 51-yard field goal instead of going for it with 2:10 left. Place kicker Chase McLaughlin missed wide left. 

Indianapolis never got the ball back, with Tennessee converting the game-clinching first down at the 1:42 mark. 

“It’s always good to come back here and kick a little butt,” said Autry, who had two sacks, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble and a tackle for loss. 

In many ways, the Titans and Colts are built the same way. Both have invested big in the trenches. Both want to impose their will with a physical running game. Both have superstar running backs. 

On Sunday, the Titans were better at the game both teams want to play. 

Derrick Henry had 22 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown, posting his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. Of those yards, 99 came in the first half. His score came on a 19-yard run in the first quarter, after cornerback Brandon Facyson took a poor angle at Henry’s legs and whiffed on a tackle. 

“We got to be better”

Derrick Henry sees a lot of room for improvement despite the Titans’ win over the Colts.

The Titans’ three takeaways came at the line of scrimmage. On the Colts’ opening drive, Autry blew by the Colts’ four-time All-Pro left guard, Quenton Nelson, and strip-sacked Ryan. In the second quarter, defensive lineman Teair Tart battled a Ryan pass and the ball wound up in his arms as he fell backward. 

The last one was the most consequential: On a pivotal third-and-2 just outside the red zone in the fourth quarter, Titans linebacker Joe Schobert forced a fumble on a Jonathan Taylor carry. The ball was recovered by Tennessee. 

Taylor, the rushing triple-crown winner last season, was held to 42 yards on 20 carries. Two turnovers were credited to Ryan, who had two fumbles in the game and is now up to nine on the season. He was also hit five times, as Tennessee took advantage of an offensive line that has continued to fall short of expectations. 

“Just happy to get a win, man,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said. “It’s hard to win in this league, especially against a team like the Colts. That’s a good team. And they’re going to play four quarters. We knew it was going to end up being a one-possession game or something like that.” 

These Titans are now on a two-game winning streak. Nothing about it has looked it easy. They haven’t scored in the second half since Week 1. 

But they took care of business Sunday on the road in the division. 

“I know what the ideal is: winning. I don’t really care how it comes,” Tannehill said. “Our job is to win. Whether it’s ‘ugly’ or ‘pretty,’ it doesn’t matter. A W is a W. … Every game’s not going to be perfect.”

For the Colts, this is another bitter Sunday. 

“Hats off to the Titans,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “They came in, played a good game, well-coached, and it’s hard to win a game when you lose the turnover battle the way we did and started the way we did. Put ourselves behind the hole, and just not good enough. I’m proud of how we fought back, gave ourselves a chance at the end, but at the end of the day, not good enough. 

“We’ve got to put this behind us.” 

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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