INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Pending doom.
You watch, you wait, you wonder.
Things are unfolding nicely for a team without its $140 million quarterback and dealing with an assortment of other injuries to front-line talent. A double-digit second-half advantage. Possession and an opportunity to either protect or extend the lead.
We give you the latest in what has been an exasperating season of fourth-quarter fades.
The Indianapolis Colts essentially are dominating the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. They lead 16-6 with less than 3 minutes remaining in the third quarter and have possession at their own 17-yard line.
On first down, Jacoby Brissett absorbs his eighth – eighth!! – sack of the day. And as it turns out, that wasn’t the worst play of the series.
That would come on second-and-10. Rookie running back Marlon Mack mishandled a pitch to the left from Brissett and was unable to cover it. Titans safety Kevin Byard did, at the Indy 4.
In short order, Marcus Mariota hit Delanie Walker with a 2-yard touchdown pass, the Titans were within 16-13 and the Colts found themselves in the grips of yet another fourth-quarter collapse.
DeMarco Murray’s 1-yard TD with 5:59 won it 20-16, but let’s give credit where it’s due, and that’s squarely on the Colts.
“It’s been the same thing over and over and over,’’ veteran safety Darius Butler said. “Off the top of my head I can think of two games where teams have come in here and just kicked our ass.
“But outside of that, it’s been things that we’ve let happen, usually in the second half, that put us in a hole.’’
Following the “Groundhog Day’’ script has reached ridiculous levels.
The Colts led 13-6 at the half, the ninth time in 11 games they’ve led (eight times) or been tied (once) at the break. They’re now 3-6 in those games, which is the overriding reason they’re 3-8 and still in position for a choice pick in next April’s NFL draft.
They led 16-6 in the third quarter, the seventh time this season they’ve enjoyed a double-digit advantage in the second half. Sunday marked the fourth time they’ve blown a fat lead – against Arizona, Pittsburgh and twice to the Titans.
And consider the déjà vu scenario against the Titans. Before settling into a 16-6 lead Sunday, they had a 19-9 grip on the game last month in Nashville. Do the math. After posting double-digit leads against Tennessee, the Colts were outscored 41-3.
“These are 60-minute ballgames,’’ Chuck Pagano said. “They are not 30 minutes. They are not 45 minutes.
“Plenty of good opportunities to put that team away. We didn’t take advantage of those opportunities.’’
The Colts’ offense entered the game with the distinction of being the NFL’s least efficient in the red zone, scoring touchdowns just 41 percent of the time. They reinforced their reputation, going 1-for-4: three Adam Vinatieri field goals, Frank Gore’s 14-yard TD.
“It’s killing us. It’s killing us,’’ Pagano said.
In the second quarter, the Colts had a pair of first-and-goal situations at the Titans 8- and 9-yard lines. A combined six snaps netted a minus-1 yard and required Vinatieri to clean up the mess with 26- and 28-yard field goals.
Over the last seven games, the Colts are a pitiful 4-of-18 on scoring TDs in the red zone.
“You’ve got to score touchdowns in this league,’’ Pagano said. “You’ve got to put touchdowns on the board.
“Let people hang around and see what happens.’’
A team with little margin for error once again paid the price for a major gaffe with so much on the line. Mack’s fumble was reminiscent of Brissett’s fourth-quarter pick-6 in the loss at Cincinnati, his interception on the first play of overtime against Arizona or fourth-quarter interception against the Steelers.
Mack stood tall and took the blame.
“That was definitely on me,’’ he said. “I just took my eye off the ball. I should have locked in on it. I was just trying to fall on it. I just didn’t get to it and I missed it. That was on me.
“It’s definitely a hard pill to swallow. Going out there and messing up, you definitely feel like it’s on you.’’
And lest we pile on Mack and the offense, the defense was culpable in the most recent disappearing act.
Through three quarters, the Colts’ defense limited the Titans to 144 yards on 31 plays. Running backs Murray and Derrick Henry “rushed’’ 12 times for a minus-3 yards.
Then, the fourth quarter. The defense clearly was worn down and had no answers for the Titans’ final two drives: 9-plays, 72 yards that ended with Murray’s 1-yard TD and 9-plays, 44 yards that ended the game.
Henry had 3 carries for 0 yards in the first three quarters, 10 carries for 79 yards in the fourth period.
The defense, Pagano allowed, was “outstanding’’ for long stretches, but quickly added, “you’ve got to play 60 minutes. The same thing happened in the first game . . . bring in 22 (Henry), who is kind of their closer.’’
Some good, too much bad. Again.
“Played well again in spurts,’’ Pagano said. “But you turn the ball over like we did in your own territory, you have eight or nine penalties and you can’t hold a team to 11 yards rushing in one half and then give up the yards that we gave up in the second half.
“It’s about doing your job. It’s about finishing and playing 60 minutes.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.