Colts earn playoff spot; Luck remains perfect vs. Titans
By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Indianapolis Colts have Andrew Luck healthy and throwing the ball all over the field.
That's more than enough with an injured Marcus Mariota stuck watching from the Tennessee sideline.
Luck threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns and the Colts beat the Titans 33-17 on Sunday night for the final spot in the postseason as the AFC's No. 6 seed.
With the Texans winning the AFC South title earlier Sunday with a victory over Jacksonville, that left the Colts and Titans playing for the second wild-card berth and a visit to Houston on Saturday.
"It's been a lot of fun," Luck said. "It's been a journey, that's for sure. I think what this team is doing is enjoying the journey."
Luck remained perfect against Tennessee, notching his 11th victory for the most wins by a quarterback since at least 1970 to win his first 11 starts against one franchise. He helped the Colts (10-6) - under first-year coach Frank Reich - end their postseason drought by winning for the ninth time in 10 games after a 1-5 start.
"I mean you're 1-5, and that's special," Reich said. "It not only takes the whole team for 10 weeks, so that's very special."
The Titans (9-7) snapped a four-game winning streak with Mariota sidelined by neck and foot injuries. They missed a second straight playoff berth under first-year coach Mike Vrabel.
"We made a decision that Marcus wasn't going to play tonight," said Vrabel, who gave no details on when the decision not to start Mariota was made nor the seriousness of his injury. "We'll continue to evaluate him and try to worry about his health and every one of those guys' health - Marcus included."
The Colts intercepted two of Blaine Gabbert's passes in the final 9:05 to finish off their 13th win in the last 15 games in the series.
Derrick Henry, who took the Titans' first offensive snap out of the wildcat, finished with 93 yards.
Tennessee was missing three defensive starters with four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey placed on injured reserve Monday and linebacker Brian Orakpo scratched for a third straight game. That left the Titans unable to pressure Luck even with the Colts missing center Ryan Kelly because of a neck injury.
And Luck simply shredded a Tennessee defense that came in as the NFL's No. 2 scoring defense giving up just 18 points a game and sixth against the pass.
He drove the Colts 92 yards before hitting Dontrelle Inman with an 11-yard TD pass and finished off a 90-play drive that used up nearly 10 minutes with a 9-yard pass to Eric Ebron. That left the Colts up 14-0, having held the ball for nearly 17 of the first 21 minutes.
Luck also added a 1-yard TD toss to Ryan Hewitt on the opening drive of the third quarter for a 24-10 lead.
"The most satisfying thing is to walk in the locker room, look at your teammate and say, `We did it,' and we did it," Reich said. "Those are three of the best words that you can ever say to your teammate. To me, that's really the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."
Titans linebacker Jayon Brown almost singlehandedly kept the Colts from putting the game away before halftime.
Brown returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. After Adoree Jackson inexplicably grabbed at a bouncing punt that put the Colts at the Tennessee 9, the Colts had a TD run by Mack erased by a holding penalty on center Evan Boehm. Two plays later, Brown stripped Mack of the ball and recovered it.
The already banged-up Titans had tight end Luke Stocker leave with an injured knee early in the second quarter followed by receiver Tajae Sharpe being helped to the sideline with an ankle. Stocker returned. Sharpe didn't.
The Colts would have won by a bigger margin if not for penalties that wiped out not one, but two touchdowns. They at least salvaged a Vinatieri field goal after Jordan Wilkins' TD run in the fourth quarter was erased by a formation penalty. The Colt were flagged 12 times for 96 yards. The Titans, who came in as the NFL's least penalized team, finished with nine penalties for 75 yards.
Colts: Wild-card game in Houston on Saturday.
Titans: Try to get Mariota healthy and find a better backup.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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Updated December 31, 2018