Never mind all the Code Blues at LP Field Sunday night. The Tennessee Titans can’t get away from Code Lose.
Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts showed the nation what Tennessee fans already were painfully aware of – that the Titans are not a very good football team as evidenced by their nationally televised 31-9 blowout that dropped the Titans to 0-5.
“I don’t know what that is,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “We put in the work in the off-season. We put in the work in the preseason and we’ve failed five tests. It’s like you study, you study and you keep failing tests. It’s hard when you’re failing your favorite subject.”
In contrast, the 5-0 Colts aced the exam in front of the national television audience, showing the distance between the two teams to be five games in the AFC South standings, but light years in terms of execution and precision.
Manning sliced the Titans defense, throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns on 36 or 44 passes. It marked his fifth consecutive 300-yard passing game this season and the fourth time the Titans beleaguered defense had surrendered 300 to an opposing quarterback.
The Colts took an early gift from the Titans as Larry Bethea punched the ball free from Alge Crumpler after a completed pass, and Keyunta Dawson recovered and returned it to the Tennessee 23.
From there, Manning needed just five plays, going for it on fourth-and-inches and hitting Reggie Wayne from three yards out for a quick 7-0 lead.
The Colts were generous themselves, as Tim Jennings got in the way of his own return man, T.J. Rushing, who was trying to fair catch Reggie Hodges punt. Instead, the ball hit Jennings in the helmet and Ken Amato recovered at the Colts 37. However, the Titans gained only six yards on five plays and settled for Rob Bironas’ 49-yard field goal.
After Keith Bulluck intercepted Manning as Jacob Ford hit the Colts quarterback, the Titans got the ball back in Indianapolis territory, but again settled for Bironas’ 43-yard field goal.
At 7-6, that was as close as the Titans would get, as they made the mistake of trading touchdowns for field goals with Manning.
“To have a chance to beat the Colts the way they're playing right now, you have to play a near-perfect game. It was clear tonight that we didn't,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “The formula got flipped. We were hoping to hold them to threes and score points. Instead, they held us to threes and scored points.”
Manning engineered two second-quarter touchdown drives, one that went 93 yards in 47 seconds (thanks to a pair of roughing the pass penalties on the Titans), while Tennessee managed just one more Bironas field goal.
That 93-yard drive was finished off with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Austin Collie with just 25 seconds to go in the half.
In the second half, the Colts put the game away on Manning’s third touchdown pass of the game, this one from six yards away to Collie. It also came courtesy of a Titans turnover, a Kerry Collins interception by Jennings on a pass he wrestled away from Nate Washington at the Tennessee 31-yard line.
The Colts managed to tack on another field goal and the rest of the night was spent between Titans fans leaving early for the parking lots and the race for Manning to record his fifth consecutive 300-yard passing game. That came in the fourth quarter with 4:22 to play on his seven-yard pass to Wayne.
When it was over, the Titans had plenty to answer for, but no real answers to give on their seemingly bottomless plight.
“Now is the time we should strap up and do what we are supposed to do. We’re basically getting hit in the mouth right now,” receiver Nate Washington said.
That’s a tough thing for a team that harbored Super Bowl aspirations and was coming off a 13-3 season a year ago to handle.
Bulluck was asked if the Titans perhaps were not as good as they expected to be this year.
“[We’re] 0-5, I think I started to wonder that a couple of games ago. But I know this team can play. The players on this team are very good football players. We just have to bring it all together as a team – offense, defense, special teams,” Bulluck said.
Added guard Jake Scott, “We’re not winning. We’re not making the plays. We’re not converting third downs. There’s a fine line in this league between being really good and really bad, and right now we’re walking the wrong side of it.”