Mike Munchak was quick to say it was a bad call.
Not the one he made with 1:07 to play in regulation when he elected to punt rather than attempt a go-ahead field goal. The Tennessee Titans coach believed wholeheartedly in that one.
It was the referees’ decision to rule the forward progress of Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen was stopped with 18 seconds remaining that irked Munchak because it cost his team a takeaway and — ultimately — any chance at a victory. Having retained possession, the Colts ran off the remainder of regulation, got the ball to start overtime and drove 80 yards in nine plays to a touchdown that doomed the Titans to a 19-13 defeat Sunday at LP Field.
“It was a bad call,” he said. “… It’s a huge play at a huge time in the game. You wish it had gone the other way where [the officials] let the play go and then they could decide if the guy was down by contact or not. When you rule forward progress it stopped then you can’t go back and review the play.”
When the Titans (3-5) look back on this contest they will find no shortage of things they could have done differently, particularly given the fact that they scored a field goal on their opening possession and never trailed during regulation.
For example, penalties cost them dearly. An offside call against defensive tackle Mike Martin negated a Kamerion Wimbley fumble recovery, and two offensive pass interference calls against Kenny Britt wiped out a 23-yard gain and a 22-yard touchdown reception. All told they were flagged eight times — as many as the previous two games combined — for 65 yards.
Tennessee did not commit a turnover but was set back by a fumbled snap on second-and-goal from the 7 early in the fourth quarter and forced to settle for a field goal. Kicker Rob Bironas missed a third-quarter field goal try that would have put the Titans up by 10. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck overthrew tight end Jared Cook in the final minute of regulation.
“I’m almost stunned, sort of shocked,” Hasselbeck said. “I … don’t really understand how we lost the game. I’m just sort of at a loss about that. We let them hang around and it was a seven-point game in the fourth quarter. Anything can happen when you give them a chance like that.”
What happened was that the Colts (4-3) scored their first touchdown of the contest, and tied the score 13-13 with 3:24 to play in regulation on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that lasted more than seven minutes. Combined, the teams had seven possessions of 10 plays or more and all but one resulted in points. Each side went three-and-out just once.
Forced to finally pick up the pace, the Titans got first downs on three of the first five snaps of their final possession and had a first-and-10 at the Indianapolis 42 with 1:21 left. They gained one yard on the next three snaps and elected to punt rather than allow Bironas to attempt a 59-yard field goal – with the wind at his back.
Nearly six years ago, the kicker made a 60-yard field goal as time expired — in the same direction — to defeat the Colts. That one was on the final play of the game.
“Too much time left to leave them the ball there [if we miss],” Munchak said. “Even if we make it … they get the ball and still have a chance to do something. I just thought it was too far at that point.”
The decision almost paid off when it appeared linebacker Akeem Ayers stripped Allen and Alterraun Verner recovered at about the Colts’ 25. Instead, officials made the ‘forward progress’ call.
Then Indianapolis won the coin flip to start overtime, and the Titans never got their hands on the ball again. Vick Ballard’s 16-yard touchdown reception, a play which was reviewed and upheld, ended it 4:49 into the extra period.
“We didn’t play good enough to get it done,” Munchak said. “… I thought we would make more plays than we did. I thought we would play a little better than we did.”
He’s not about to think twice about the decision to punt, though.