NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For those who had missed the first five weeks of the season, the Indianapolis Colts offered a 60-minute refresher course of just who they are Monday night at Nissan Stadium.
They were good enough early – again – to offer hope.
They were bad enough late – again – to remind everyone why they’re 2-4 and so darned close to being 0-6.
On a brisk evening, the Colts started but couldn’t finish. Again.
They used a crisp, complementary first half to ease into a 13-9 half lead over the Tennessee Titans. Jacoby Brissett was sharp, Adam Vinatieri was dialed in and the defense kept the Titans out of the end zone.
Then, they couldn’t finish.
In a replay of previous second half collapses – Arizona, Seattle, Cleveland and San Francisco – the Colts wilted, faded, sagged after halftime. They were outscored 27-9 in the second half and saw the Titans turn a nip-and-tuck 22-all game with 7:27 remaining into pulling-away 36-22 victory that snapped an 11-game losing streak to Indy.
“Disappointed to say the least,’’ Chuck Pagano said. “Gotta play 60 minutes.
“It’s a recurring thing, I know.’’
Yes, it is.
It seemed appropriate the Colts ultimately failed to finish against the Titans when Brissett was unable to finish with the necessary yard on a bootleg around right end on fourth-and-1 with 2:36 remaining. He came up short when dragged down by linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
Just like that, a team that couldn’t finish was finished.
The Colts have led at the half in four of their six games and were tied 6-6 with the 49ers in a fifth. They’ve completely squandered three double-digit second-half leads – Arizona, San Francisco, the Titans – and only Adam Vinatieri’s 51-yard field goal in overtime against the 49ers stands between them and being 0-3 in those games.
Only 3-point wins over the 49ers and Browns stand between the Colts and 0-6.
They saw a 15-10 lead against the Seahawks in Seattle in week 4 disintegrate into a 46-18 embarrassment.
Monday night, the Colts followed the same script with similar results. They’ve now been outscored 126-45 after halftime, including 85-22 in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got to figure out obviously a way to finish games, a way to put together a 60-minute ball game,’’ Pagano said, flashing the expression of a coach who had no answers to that persistent issue. “We have to figure it out. We’re 2-4. We know what our record is. We know what our circumstances are.’’
Incredibly, the latest fade-to-black only left the Colts 1 game back of the Titans, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, tied atop the AFC South at 3-3.
But the distance separating them from the leaders seems so much larger.
As the Colts have so vividly shown, they’re only half good.
“Our margin for error is minute,’’ Pagano said. “We just continue to kill ourselves.’’
While the offense was converting just 2-of-9 third-down situations, the Titans were going 6-of-13.
“We couldn’t get off the field on third down on defense,’’ Pagano said.
The Colts’ defense also gifted Tennessee three first downs with penalties.
Before his game slipped, Brissett didn’t exactly get solid support from his teammates. Donte Moncrief dropped what would have been an 18-yard touchdown on Indy’s first possession. Suddenly unreliable Jack Doyle lost a fumble midway through quarter and dropped three passes.
Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton was a game-long non-factor with 1 catch for 19 yards on four targets.
And after holding the Titans to five Ryan Succop field goals, the defense finally wore down. Tennessee’s three fourth-quarter possessions: TD, TD, TD. The final two were gashers – Marcus Mariota’s 53-yard pass to Taywan Taylor and Derrick Henry’s 72-yard run.
“Combination of poor execution, penalties, turnovers and giving up big plays,’’ Pagano said. “Can’t do it.’’
Yet they continue to do it.
Linebacker John Simon’s first career interception generated his first career touchdown – a 26-yard return of a Mariota pass – less than 2 minutes into the second half. The pick-6 pushed the Colts in front 19-9.
It was downhill from there.
The main culprit was the offense which went from efficient to impotent in the blink of an eye.
In the first half, three possessions netted two Vinatieri field goals and Brissett’s 8-yard TD to Doyle. The Colts motored to 186 yards on 28 plays.
Consider the third-quarter offense: 11 plays, 27 yards, zero first downs, three punts and Doyle’s fumble. Brissett passed for 119 yards and one TD in the first half, and just 93 yards in the second half.
Why the Jekyll and Hyde act by the offense?
“I just didn’t play good enough in the second half,’’ Brissett said, declining to elaborate. “We had answers out there and I’ve just got to do a better job of finding them.
“I’ve just got to play better. I’ve got to put us in better positions to make more plays, stay ahead of the chains and keep the drives moving.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.