NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Every team in the NFL has regular conversations about withstanding adversity. Good teams fight through down moments and have a clear understanding that those bad stretches are not the same as zeros on the game clock.
Thursday night at LP Field, the Indianapolis Colts gave up four first downs and 41 penalty yards during a second-quarter defensive series. They were a crumbling, undisciplined mess.
The Titans, meanwhile, saw their new return man run a kickoff into the back of one of his teammates and fumble. And after Devon Wylie bumped into Craig Stevens and gave away the turnover early in the third quarter, the hosts fell apart and never regained their balance.
That’s pretty much the story of the Titans, who have lost five of their past six games. They don’t really know how to recover from mistakes, and they are party to the other team doing it pretty regularly.
“We see what we’re doing,” strong safety Bernard Pollard said. “These teams are not better than us. They might handle certain things better than us, but they are not better than us.”
With apologies to Pollard, the fact that opponents handle certain things better than the Titans is precisely what makes those opponents better.
This is a downtrodden bunch that once had a 3-1 record to validate the in-house expectations built with an offseason of free-agent activity, coaching-staff alterations and promises from coach Mike Munchak that they wouldn’t disappoint.
Now, at 4-6, they are three games and a tiebreaker out of the lead in the AFC South with six games to play. They remain alive for the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs only because there are so many other bad teams bunched together. But some of them can start pulling away Sunday.
“We’ve still got six games to pull something together and do something,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “A lot of it’s probably out of our hands now. I don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend or whatnot.”
The Titans were practically apathetic at the start of last weekend's loss to the previously winless Jaguars. Thursday night they started off far better, unveiling a hurry-up, no-huddle offense that played to the strengths of Ryan Fitzpatrick, their quarterback the rest of the way after Jake Locker’s season-ending foot injury.
They built leads of 14-0 and 17-3 in the first half, but then they watched the Colts march 74 yards in 11 plays to open the second half with a touchdown. Wylie’s gaffe followed, and it took only two plays for Indianapolis to get to the end zone again and take its first lead, 20-17. The Titans didn’t roll over, but they never got the lead back.
Maybe the Titans could have won if they had held the Colts to a field goal on big fourth-quarter drive. Instead, linebacker Akeem Ayers hit Andrew Luck late after a handoff -- not even on a pass play -- for an unnecessary-roughness penalty that positioned Indianapolis for a touchdown that built the late lead to 30-20.
All of which set up the same postgame questions: What’s wrong? Why is this happening? Why can’t you fix it?
“We are who we are,” defensive end Derrick Morgan said. “There are no excuses; there’s no explanation. We can sit here and talk for an hour, but we are what we put on that field. ... You can only talk so much. We’ve been talking the last several weeks, and we haven’t been getting the results that we want. We didn’t go do it.
“We keep having the same conversation. We just went downhill from a good start. We’ve got all the talent in the world, but it’s not showing up on game day. ... Obviously we don’t [know how to win]. We’ve been losing close games, games that we think we should have won. We’re not finishing.”
The Titans don’t do much dictating; instead, they’re always trying to respond.
And then they wind up in position to look at something like the Colts’ 32 carries for 137 yards and hear Munchak say, “They ran the ball much better than they should have been able to.”
The Colts are an incredibly annoying and frustrating team for the Titans. When the AFC South was formed in 2002, Peyton Manning and Indy were kings of the division forever. When he got hurt and then was released, the division door opened, but it was Houston that walked through. Now Luck is in place and seems poised to begin a reign similar to Manning’s.
The Colts and their quarterback seem to have DNA that means they can withstand tough stuff and find ways to win.
The Titans, to put it simply, don't.