INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry took it personally when Tennessee started slowly Sunday.
The two running backs made sure they finished with a flurry.
Henry delivered the body blows with five strong runs midway through the fourth quarter and Murray finally punched it in from 1 yard with 5:59 left, giving the Titans a 20-16 win and their first victory in 10 tries at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Derrick came in and made some good runs,” Marcus Mariota said. “When you have a front like we do and you can lean on those guys, it’s huge. Their abilities and the way they can dominate the line of scrimmage is huge.”
This was far from a dominant performance, though.
The Titans (7-4) finished with 276 total yards, and the first half was a debacle.
Mariota was picked off twice, the league’s No. 12 rushing offense produced 9 yards on 11 carries, and all Tennessee could muster was two field goals.
During a 30-minute stretch, from late in the first quarter till late in the third, the Titans managed just one first down. And for the second straight game against the Colts (3-8), Tennessee trailed by 10 in the third quarter.
But the defense came up with eight sacks, the key fumble recovery late in the third quarter and kept it close enough to let the Murray-Henry combination to make a difference late.
All those shots eventually wore down Indy’s defense — as it did six weeks earlier in Nashville when the Titans snapped an 11-game losing streak in the series.
This time, Tennessee got its first season sweep since 2002 and its first win since the Colts’ stadium opened in 2008 . And now they have their best 11-game record since going 10-1 in 2008, a share of the AFC South lead with Jacksonville, and the current tiebreaker courtesy of a 37-16 road win over the Jaguars in Week 2.
“They did an outstanding job of stuffing us,” coach Mike Mularkey said, referring to the Colts’ run defense. “We came in at halftime and made some adjustments. The guys took it personally that we didn’t run the ball very well and it helped win the game for us.”
The Colts have lost three straight at home and five of six overall in frustratingly familiar fashion.
They took a 13-6 lead on Frank Gore’s 14-yard run late in the first half and extended the lead to 16-6 on Adam Vinatieri’s 42-yard field goal with 6:05 left in the third.
Then things slipped away.
Rookie running back Marlon Mack lost the ball on a pitch and Kevin Byard recovered the ball at the Colts’ 4-yard line. After an offside penalty moved the ball to the 2, Mariota connected with Delanie Walker in the corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to 16-13 with 1:50 left.
Indy only picked up only one more first down.
“These are 60-minute ballgames. They are not 30 minutes; they are not 45 minutes. They are 60-minute games,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Plenty of opportunities to put that team away, we didn’t take advantage of those opportunities.”
Instead Murray and Henry handled the ball on 13 of the Titans’ last 15 plays, including the TD run, before Mariota dropped to his knee three straight times to close it out.
Titans: Tennessee ran 28 times for 92 yards. … Mariota was 17 of 25 for 184 yards with one TD. … The Titans came up one sack short of matching the franchise record, which had been achieved twice previously, most recently in 1971 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Colts: Frank Gore ran 17 times for 62 yards and one touchdown, the 77th of his career to tie Tony Dorsett for No. 22 on the league’s career list. … Tight end Jack Doyle had seven catches for 94 yards. … The Colts have blown double-digit second-half leads four times this season. … Indy has allowed 47 sacks this season, three more than it gave up all of last season.
Titans: Receiver Rishard Mathews missed the game with a hamstring injury. Walker, left tackle Taylor Lewan and linebacker Jayon Brown all left briefly but returned. Safety Da’Norris Searcy hurt his ankle in the second half and did not return. Mularkey said he believes it’s not serious.
Colts: Cornerback Rashaan Melvin left after injuring his hand on the first Mariota interception and did not return after having an X-ray. Starting center Ryan Kelly was held out in the second half because of a concussion.
THEY SAID IT
Titans: “If you want to win the division, you have to win the division games, especially on the road,” Mularkey said.
Colts: “I just took my eye off the ball,” Mack said of the fumble. “I should have just locked in and squeezed it in tight.”
Titans: Continue their AFC march by hosting Houston next Sunday.
Colts: Can even the season series at Jacksonville next Sunday.