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Titans fail to solve Luck again, will wait another year

Jimmy Trodglen/Tnsports360.com

By Jimmy Trodglen

Editor

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans will have to wait another season to solve the Andrew Luck equation.

Luck threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns and the Colts clinched the final AFC playoff spot beating the Titans 33-17 at Nissan Stadium Sunday.

Luck directed scoring drives of 92 and 90 yards in the first quarter and the Colts never trailed, winning for the ninth time in 10 games after starting the season 1-5.

Luck completed 24 of his 35 attempts with one interception and improved to 11-0 against the Titans as the Colts’ starting quarterback.

Luck rarely felt pressure from the Titans defense and repeatedly had time to find to find open receivers. The Titans had one sack and only two quarterback hurries.

Luck finished the regular season with 39 touchdown passes and only 15 interceptions. In the two games against the Titans, Luck threw for six touchdowns and 582 yards.

The Titans lost both games to the Colts by a total of 44 points.

The Colts (10-6) will play at Houston in the AFC Wild Card round Saturday, while the Titans finished the season 9-7. The Titans had won four-straight to move into a position where they could win and reach the playoffs for the second straight season but struggled to slow down the Colts and had inconsistencies with the offense, especially on third-down attempts where they were only 1-for-9.

The Titans were without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was ruled out with a nerve injury. Mariota’s absence forced backup Blaine Gabbert into repeating his role from a week earlier when he replaced Mariota to lead the Titans to a comeback win over the Redskins.

“Marcus (Mariota) didn’t play tonight and I’m not going to go into much detail on where he’s at physically and the decision,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “I’m just disappointed for the players that put a lot into this and the coaches. We’ve got to do a better job and try to figure out how to take the next step.”

Mariota practiced a couple of days leading up to the regular-season finale with the Colts, but a decision on his availability wasn’t solidified until Sunday morning.

“Nothing was for sure this morning,” said Gabbert, who threw for 165 yards and a touchdown on 18 of 29 passing. “We just went out there and tried to play a good football game but came up a little bit short.”

Titans back Derek Henry surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the season after rushing for 93 yards on only 16 carries.

Brown’s defensive score

Titans linebacker Jayon Brown accounted for the Titans’ only interception, returning a pick 22 yards for a touchdown. Brown also forced a fumble and had a fumble recovery.

With Luck directing a 12 and 16 play drive, the Colts built a quick 14-0 lead. The Titans responded with Brown picking off Luck for a defensive touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-7.

The Colts went into the half leading 17-10 and went ahead 24-10 on Luck’s 1-yard touchdown throw to Ryan Hewitt.

The Titans had a moment of hope when Henry’s 33-yard run set up Luke Stocker’s 22-yard touchdown reception, cutting the lead to 24-17.

Adam Vinatieri’s 25-yard field goal extended the Colts’ lead to 27-17 with 3:55 remaining.

Any hopes of a comeback were dismantled when the Titans had four penalties on seven offensive snaps and Gabbert’s fourth-down desperation pass was off the mark.

“We definitely were not good on third down,” Gabbert said. “That’s kind of the tale of the game. You can’t stay on the field for extended periods of time and put our defense in tough positions.”

Series record

The Colts lead the series 33-16 and are 17-4 dating back to the 2008 season. The Titans swept the Colts during the 2017 season, but Luck missed most of that season with an injury. … The Colts are making their first playoff appearance since 2014.

First-year coaches

Vrabel finished 9-7 in his rookie season as the Titans coach, while Frank Reich was 10-6 in his rookie campaign.

Jimmy Trodglen, editor, Twitter@Tnsports360