Titans hope to keep mini-streak going at home against Colts
There was a rare sight in Nissan Stadium last week.
Tennessee Titans fans, which have rarely had reason to cheer for the last two years as their team has gone 2-14 at home, actually were able to influence a couple of Cleveland possessions in the second half by making enough noise to force false start penalties.
"What a difference this place is when we have the crowd noise like we had," Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said after a 28-26 win. "What an ally for this team to have support like that from this fan base."
The Titans are in position to gain even more support this week. If they can beat the Indianapolis Colts in the second of their three-game homestand, it will give them their first three-game winning streak since Week 2-4 of the 2011 season.
What's more, a victory would also enable Tennessee (3-3) to keep pace with front-running Houston (4-2) in the AFC South while also keeping Indianapolis (2-4) in the division basement.
"We're on the right track," Mularkey said. "We have a lot still to work on and still to do, but all it's doing is confirming we're going the right direction."
The Colts could have made that claim as well if they hadn't collapsed in the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter and in overtime last week in Houston. But they hacked up a 23-9 lead and then, predictably, lost 26-23 on Nick Novak's field goal.
That come-from-ahead defeat intensified calls for the job of Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, but he appears to be safe for now. It's not likely Pagano has spent much time worrying about his job security, given that the task of rallying his team after such a brutal defeat is probably a bit more important.
"There are no pity parties in this building," Pagano said. "There are no pity parties in football. You watch the tape, make the adjustments and corrections and move on.
"We know exactly where we are at, what is ahead of us."
What's ahead of the Colts is an opponent that has not only gained confidence with its first back-to-back wins since the last two games of the 2013 season but is itching to snap a nine-game losing streak against them.
The last time the Titans beat Indianapolis was Oct. 30, 2011, when the Colts were enduring a 2-14 season that gave them the right to draft quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in the 2012 draft. Until an injury and turnover-plagued 2015, Luck had earned three straight playoff trips.
Now, he and Indianapolis are trying to avoid a precarious situation.
"We understand how hard it is to win in this league," Luck said. "We understand that the best team on that day will win. More often than not, we realized we have no one to blame but ourselves."
The blame lies mostly with a defense ranked 25th against the rush, 29th against the pass and 30th overall. The Colts are allowing a whopping 29 points per game, leaving too big a load on Luck's big shoulders.
Meanwhile, Tennessee has made clear strides by improving on both sides of the scrimmage line. A young offensive line led by first-round pick Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan has helped veteran running back DeMarco Murray rediscover his Dallas mojo of 2014, as he has rushed for 526 yards in six games and given the offense an identity.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota has played well the last two weeks, throwing for three touchdowns in wins over Miami and Cleveland. And the defense has gotten after the quarterback, notching six sacks in each game.
Mularkey said part of the reason for the defense's improvement is the presence of veteran coordinator Dick LeBeau and his varied zone blitzes that test an offensive line's ability to adjust on the fly.
"There's a lot of moving parts. There's a lot of pre-snap disguising. That's the beauty of coach LeBeau," Mularkey said. "He's done this for a long time, and he can keep finding ways to get the matchups. It's really impressive in how he does it. He does it week in and week out."
The byproduct is contention for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008 or enjoyed a winning season since 2011.
"I don't care about rankings, all those things," Mularkey said. "This is going to be a tough game."