Without several key starters, including their franchise QB, the Tennessee Titans didn’t have enough firepower to win the do-or-die game.
Over the final quarter of the season, the Tennessee Titans had done everything right and got some help from other teams in order to set themselves up for the perfect set-up for the final game of the regular season. They won four straight games to climb out of a 5-6 hole and had the Pittsburgh Steelers lose a game, turning a Week 17 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts into a win-and-in (to the playoffs) scenario.
But along the line, their roster began to take massive hits. Starting TE Jonnu Smith and OLB Brian Orakpo were both injured in the win against the Jacksonville Jaguars and didn’t make an appearance for the rest of the season. Stellar slot CB Logan Ryan broke his fibula in the win over the New York Giants. Then Pro Bowl DT Jurrell Casey and starting QB Marcus Mariota got injured in Week 16 against the Washington Redskins and couldn’t suit up for the finale.
All of that meant the Titans were short on their best talent heading into a must-win situation, and it showed on Sunday night. Despite the game being played surrounded by a roaring Nissan Stadium crowd, Colts QB Andrew Luck was unfazed to start the game. While the Titans punted away on their first two drives, the Colts scored on both of their drives that spanned a combined 28 plays, 182 yards and 16 minutes and 44 seconds.
With Blaine Gabbert starting at QB, the Titans needed to win this game with their defense, and they certainly didn’t show up early. But then they got into a rhythm, as some interior pressure on Luck led to an errant throw that LB Jayon Brown picked off and took to the house to cut the lead to 14-7. On the following Colts drive, the Titans forced a three and out, but a horrifying and baffling decision on the punt by returner Adoree’ Jackson gave the Colts the ball in Titans territory. Thankfully, Brown came through yet again — like he has all season — by forcing a fumble on a swing pass to RB Marlon Mack. But the Titans failed to capitalize on the turnover. Both teams swapped field goals before halftime to make it 17-10.
The Colts wasted no time extending their lead, scoring through Luck’s third passing touchdown of the game on the first drive of the second half. Down 14 points with Gabbert at QB, the game seemed futile and out of reach. But as they always do, the Titans give you hope to cling on to, regardless of how short-lived it might be. The Titans forced two-consecutive punts and took over at their own 45-yard line with 2:23 left in the third quarter. RB Derrick Henry took a handoff on the first play and scooted for 33 yards. Gabbert then found TE Luke Stocker wide open on the left side of the field for a 22-yard score on a catch and run.
On the ensuing Colts drive, the Titans forced a third straight punt, giving them the ball down by just a touchdown and with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter. Starting from their own three-yard line, the drive started out with a good mix of runs and passes, and the Titans were moving down the field methodically. On a 3rd and 6 from their own 46-yard line, though, the Titans missed Mariota. Gabbert rolled out to his right, had a receiver open in the middle of the field, tried to squeeze in a bullet to him, but it was picked off by a defender who was baiting him by hanging around between the flat and the middle of the field.
The interception was a total game-changer. The Colts got a field goal following the pick and were able to chew up 5:10 off the clock in the process. Down by two scores and without firepower at the QB position, the Titans had no chance to mount a comeback. The Titans ended up losing 33-17 and missing out on the playoffs. The Titans will now look forward to getting everyone healthy and gearing up for an important offseason that should feature a good amount of roster changes.