Game plan: Colts vs. Titans
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 2, 2016) – Four areas of interest for the Indianapolis Colts’ regular-season finale against the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium (CBS4, 1 p.m.):
Final act(s): We have one request for the Colts, one they probably will ignore. Prior to kickoff, make it a point to plaster Chuck Pagano’s face on the Lucas Oil Stadium video screens. Give the crowd a chance to say ‘Adios.’ He’s likely coaching his final game for the franchise, and deserves a proper sendoff.
Sure, there are detractors and reasons they’re anti-Chuck. But fans should take time to appreciate what Pagano has provided over the past four seasons. Anyone not giving him credit for the role he’s played in the 40-23 regular-season record and three trips to the playoffs has an anti-Pagano agenda. And that’s just wrong.
While he’s probably resigned to what’s to come, we still liked the moxie Pagano shared this week.
“I will fight my a** off to be the coach here,’’ he said. “I’m worried about Tennessee right now, but do I want to be the coach here? Yes.’’
It appears Pagano won’t be the only man coaching his final game for his current employers. Speculation has the Titans not sticking with interim coach Mike Mularkey, who replaced Ken Whisenhunt in early November. Tennessee was 1-6 with Whisenhunt and is 2-6 with Mularkey.
“I’m going to remain the head coach until I’m told otherwise,’’ Mularkey said.
Draft positioning: Contrary to popular opinion, Sunday’s game carries long-range ramifications. Especially for the Titans. A fourth consecutive loss drops them to 3-13 and guarantees the No. 1 pick in the April 28 draft. It would be the third time since the 1970 merger the Titans “earned’’ the first overall pick in the draft. The last time was in 1978. They were located in Houston, called the Oilers and grabbed future Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell.
Residing near the top of the draft isn’t new to the Titans. They had the second overall pick a year ago and added quarterback Marcus Mariota. Complementing him with the top pick in April – or with a parcel of players/picks from a trade – could help return the Titans to respectability.
It’s worth noting the Colts’ lost season will result in middle-of-the-road positioning in the draft. The best slot for a non-playoff team is No. 20. A 7-9 finish could push them close to a top-10 pick while an 8-8 finish would push them into the No. 17-18 range.
QB showdown: OK, we’re using the phrase loosely. But admit it, you have a morbid curiosity in a Josh Freeman/Ryan Lindley versus Zach Mettenberger showdown at LOS.
We’re expecting Freeman to get the nod for the Colts if for no other reason than his resume is much deeper than Lindley’s. Although Freeman last started in October 2013 for Tampa Bay against the New York Giants, he carries a 24-36 overall record. The quarterback-starved Arizona Cardinals turned to Lindley for their NFC wild-card trip to Carolina in January, and he passed for 82 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 27-16 loss. He’s 1-6 as a starter.
Mettenberger has taken over for Mariota, who’s being kept out of harm’s way after he suffered a knee injury last week. His career numbers aren’t awful – 203-of-332, 2,309 yards, 13 interceptions, 12 touchdowns, a 77.7 passer rating – but he’s winless in nine starts.
The matchup undoubtedly will boil down to which quarterback is better able to limit his mistakes while making just enough plays to make a difference.
Gore’s last shot: We’re not in the cheerleading business, but we’re still pulling for Frank Gore to buck the odds and crack the 1,000-yard barrier for the ninth time in his 11-year career. He understands the significance that achievement would have on a resume that already is worth of Hall of Fame consideration.
“It’d be big,’’ admitted Gore, who needs 36 yards to reach 12,000 for his career.
He’d join Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith as the only players in NFL history with nine 1,000-yard seasons. That’s elite company. All four have busts in Canton, Ohio.
There’s no overstating the enormity of the challenge ahead. With the Colts starting a third quarterback in a season for just the second time in the last 18 years, the Titans are going to make that guy prove he’s up to the task. They’re going to make it difficult for offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to establish a running game by crowding the line of scrimmage. And keep in mind, the Colts’ run blocking has been miserable most of the season. Gore is averaging a career-low 3.7 yards per attempt and the Colts are at 3.6, No. 30 in the league.
In another individual-based note, placekicker Adam Vinatieri needs five points to reach 100 for the season. That would extend his NFL record with 100-point seasons to 18.
Prediction: Colts 16, Titans 12.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.