By Ron Wynn
Coming off consecutive awful games against Pittsburgh and Houston, the Tennessee Titans badly needed a win. They got it Sunday against a team playing even worse all season than they had the past two weeks. The Titans defeated the Indianapolis Colts 27-10 in a game that wasn’t nearly that close, nor very interesting other than for the continued on-field drama regarding the Titans rushing offense.
The lingering questions about whether Chris Johnson is injured or simply ineffective remain unresolved. He had 14 carries for 34 yards, and was booed almost every time he touched the ball. But unlike some past games, this time coach Mike Munchak took action. Javon Ringer was on the field early and often. Ringer was more a part of the offense than Johnson in the second half. Ringer also had 14 carries, but gained 60 yards. He added another 42 in pass receptions, with more catches (five) than either the wide receivers or tight ends. During the fourth quarter as the Titans were trying to finish things, it was Ringer getting key carries.
“The running game hasn’t been where we wanted it to be all year,” Johnson told the Washington Examiner after the game. “So I guess they are just trying new things.” Ringer denied he was now ahead of Johnson, and said Johnson’s skills were immense and he anticipated him rounding into form very soon. He also said Johnson was still the starter, but admitted he enjoyed being the focal point of the offense and wanted more playing time.
The Titans got two touchdowns from Nate Washington, one on the ground. Matt Hasselback threw for 224 yards with one TD pass. The secondary played much better, intercepting two passes from Colt QB Curtis Painter. They also benefited from a Colts’ offense that couldn’t get out of its own way. The Colts committed eight penalties in the first half alone (10 for the game), and contributed 66 gift yards to the Titans. Both Painter’s interceptions led to Titan touchdowns.
“Penalties overall in the first half, I think we had eight in the first half or something like that, which is highly uncharacteristic,” Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said. “You couple that with a couple of turnovers, and it’s a tough day.”
“Obviously, the win’s the bottom line, and there’s things we know we’ve got to improve upon,” Munchak said. “But it’s good to get to 4-3 the way the last two weeks went. We’re going to enjoy this.” Munchak added he was just rotating running backs in an attempt to get the rushing attack restarted. He added it (the running game) is still a work in progress, and Ringer should not be considered the new starter.
Painter did his best to rally the Colts, but had an erratic day. He managed 250 yards passing yards, and surprisingly was also the Colts leading rush with 79 yards. Indy held the Titans to 96 yards rushing. But after narrowing the gap to 20-10, Jason Jones’ tip of a Painter pass led to Barrett Ruud’s interception. A 14-yard TD pass from Hasselback to Washington ended any suspense, making things 27-10. Indy made two last-ditch efforts. Michael Griffin broke up one fourth down pass to Dallas Clark, and Painter overthrew Pierre Garcon on another with 26 seconds left.
The Titans got excellent special teams play. Kicker Rob Bironas made first half field goals of 51 and 50 yards. Patrick Bailey blocked a punt from the Colts’ Pat McAfee that resulted in a TD by Jason McCourty. It was their first blocked punt of the season.
Without Peyton Manning, who signed autographs in the end zone, the Colts have little offensive zip or punch. Their running backs were even less effective than Johnson. The Titans offense was efficient, but far from spectacular. Hasselback had only one interception and was sacked once. There were fewer dropped passes and no fumbles of importance.
“We know we’ve got to play better, but we’re still happy to have the win,” Hasselback added. “Now we’ve got to get ready for the (Cincinnati) Bengals.” The Bengals will be the Titans’ third consecutive home opponent. They are in the midst of a major turnaround. The Bengals are a surprising 5-2, despite having rookie QB Andy Dalton. They also trimmed high profile types QB Carson Palmer and wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. from their roster. Their defense has been among the NFL’s best, especially against the rush.
The Titans at 4-3 are a half game behind Houston (5-3) in the AFC standings. They are the only clubs in the division with a better than .500 record. But the Titans division mark is only 1-2, thanks to the inexplicable season opening loss to Jacksonville. Since division record is the first tie-breaker, the Titans realize they not only need to string victories together, but get makeup wins against Jacksonville and Houston.
Now if someone could just figure a way to get Chris Johnson running like he did two years ago.