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USA Today Sports Media Group
Cody Manning

5 takeaways from Colts’ 31-28 win over Titans

The Indianapolis Colts (7-5) have now won four games in a row after finding a way to squeeze a win over their divisional rivals despite the Tennessee Titans (4-8) kicking a field goal on the opening drive of overtime.

This was one of the wonkiest games I have ever seen. It included a sequence where Samson Ebukam forced a strip-sack that was recovered by Julian Blackmon who got the ball knocked out by Will Levis for Tennessee recovery.

The Titans would end up getting three points after that. There were two straight blocked punts (one was ruled as a fumble) by the Colts, which one was returned for a touchdown.

Shane Steichen would end up going for two after that score. Gardner Minshew had a badly placed ball that went off Zack Moss’ hands right to Amani Hooker who returned it to give Tennessee two points on the board.

On top of all of that, Ryan Stonehouse got hurt on the second blocked punt, and when the Titans tied up the game at 25 all, Nick Folk missed his PAT attempt with Ryan Tannehill in as the holder for Stonehouse.

This game got so weird that at one point it was reported that Matt Gay got stung by a bee.

This was a contest that easily could’ve been lost by the Colts but the special teams delivered as well as Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce.

Here are five takeaways from Indy’s big divisional road win:

Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce deliver

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

For the first time this season, the Colts finish a game with two receivers finishing with at least 100 receiving yards. It was led by Michael Pittman Jr. who finished the game with 11 receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown on 16 targets.

He now has two straight games with at least 10 receptions and has gone over 100 receiving yards as well. MPJ has nine games this season where he has finished with at least eight catches.

His score was the walk-off touchdown that won the game for Indianapolis.

Year 2 has been relatively quiet for Alec Pierce. He’s been due to make an impact, which he was able to do today as that vertical threat in the offense. Pierce got things kicked off by hauling in a 36-yard touchdown.

That was his first score of the season. It got quiet for him after that but partially because Gardner Minshew had a bad throw to him to open the third quarter that would’ve been a 63-yard touchdown. Pierce had his man completely beaten and would have walked in if Minshew hit him in stride.

Then it was in overtime when Pierce made the biggest play of his career. You can argue his game-winning touchdown last year against the Jacksonville Jaguars but with this game meaning more for playoffs, it gets the edge for me.

With the offense struggling to move the ball heading into overtime, Pierce secures a big completion for 55 yards to set up the game-winning score.

He ended the game with three receptions for a career-high 100 yards and a touchdown.

With the ground game struggling, this was what the Colts needed out of their receiving corps.

Thankfully Grover Stewart is back in Week 14

Denny Simmons/The Tennessean

To no surprise, Mike Vrabel had his offense attack a struggling rush defense with Derrick Henry. His day was kicked off with an untouched 22-yard touchdown run that gave the Titans the first score of the game.

Henry would continue to hammer away at the Indy defense throughout the first two quarters. By halftime, he had 107 total yards and two touchdowns.

The Colts were much better at bottling up Henry in the second half. Henry managed to get 13 more yards before he exited the game early in the fourth quarter with a concussion.

But eventually, Tennessee got back to finding some success with the rushing attack with Tyjae Spears in overtime. He ended his day with 75 rushing yards.

Henry and Spears combined for 177 rushing yards while averaging 4.78 YPC. The good news is that Grover Stewart is back this week with the Colts facing the Cincinnati Bengals who will lean into Joe Mixon with Jake Browning at quarterback.

3. Offense struggles to convert

Rinse and repeat. Mike Vrabel took every Colts oppennents strategy of taking away the rushing attack and force Gardner Minshew to beat you. If you look at the box score, you would think Minshew had a solid afternoon.

He finished going 26-of-42 for 312 yards and two touchdowns but that doesn’t tell the story. Indianapolis found themselves in third-and-longs far too often and Minshew struggled to keep drives alive with his arm.

The offense finished the game 3-of-14 on third downs. Five of the failed third-down conversions came inside the 10-yard which resulted in field goals and a Minshew fumble.

If Minshew doesn’t fumble or the offense cracks the endzone then this game wouldn’t have gone to overtime. Another costly failed conversion came on the two-point try following the blocked punt touchdown.

The ball placement by Minshew forced Zack Moss to reach up for the ball which leads to the ball deflecting out of his hands right to Amani Hooker who ended up taking it all the way to give the Titans points on the board.

If Minshew throws a lower ball then Tennessee doesn’t get those two points which would have prevented overtime.

Shane Steichen will need his offense to be better at converting money downs if they are going to close a playoff spot in the final five games.

Pass rush steps up in the second half

Robert Scheer/IndyStar

By halftime, the Indy defense had two sacks and three QB hits, which were responsible by Samson Ebukam and DeForest Buckner. Ebukam ended his day with those two sacks as well as six tackles (five solo), two QB hits, a TFL, and a forced fumble (strip-sack).

For Buckner, he finished with six tackles (three solo), one pass defense, a half-sack, and three QB hits. Gus Bradley needed the rest of his defensive front to get pressure on Will Levis in the second half and they delivered.

It was led by Kwity Paye who got a couple of strip sacks (both recovered by Tennessee). His first one helped force five straight three-and-outs by the Indy defense.

His second strip-sack was a crucial one. It came on a drive where the Titans were about to get into range for a game-winning field goal. That play helped force the punt to get to overtime.

The rest of the sacks and QB hits came from Jake Martin (one sack, one QB hit), Eric Johnson II (half-a-sack, one QB hit), Dayo Odeyingbo (one QB hit), and Adetomiwa Adebawore (one QB hit).

The group effort paid off to give the Indy defense a better showing in the second half.

Special teams a difference maker

Denny Simmons/The Tennessean

With the Indy offense struggling to move the ball at times and punching the ball in the endzone when they would, it was the special teams that made a huge difference in the outcome.

It was sparked by Nick Cross blocking a punt late in the third quarter. Grant Stuard ended up scooping the ball up and taking it in for the touchdown to give the Colts their first lead of the day.

That didn’t stop there. On the following drive, Tony Brown came flying off the edge to hit Ryan Stonehouse before he even had a chance to punt the ball. Segun Olubi pounced on it for the recovery.

While the box score calls this one a fumble, I still don’t know if I have ever seen two blocked punts in a row by a team.

In a game when every point mattered, Matt Gay helped Indianapolis stay in this game with his leg. He was 4-of-4 on his field goal attempts and made his one PAT. His longest field goal was 46 yards, which came at the end of the first half that made it a 17-13 game.

Not only were the points from Gay and the special teams crucial, but Rigoberto Sanchez did a good job not giving the Titans great field position. He averaged 51.2 yards on five punts and had a long of 57 yards.

Brian Mason’s unit was on point today and it proved vital for the Colts to get the road victory over Tennessee.

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