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Mariota, Henry pace Titans past Colts in AFC South tilt

The Tennessee Titans (3-3) pulled away with two long scores in the fourth quarter, topping the Indianapolis Colts (2-4), 36-22, on Monday Night Football in Week 6. Here's what we learned:

  1. The Titans were better off Monday night abandoning the "exotic" from their "exotic smashmouth" offense. With both Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray hobbled and playing like it, Tennessee saw limited success on their typical option trick plays. At no time was this strategy more evident than during a third quarter first-and-goal opportunity, when Tennessee ran two outside runs to no avail, before attempting an incomplete pass up the middle. The Titans turned an Indianapolis turnover into just three points and wasted a golden opportunity to pull even early in the half.

But they learned their lesson quickly, running dive after sneak after dive into the Indy front seven on the ensuing 15-play drive, and pulled ahead in the fourth. Derrick Henry carried the load as the game wore on and iced it on Tennessee's final drive with an amazing 72-yard touchdown run, earning his first career 100-yard game in the process. If their top skill players continue to battle injuries, smashmouth up-the-middle football with Henry as the anchor will have to be Tennessee's calling card going forward.

  1. Mariota returned from his one-week hamstring-induced hiatus, but he wasn't fully back on Monday night. The usually fleet-footed Mariota opted to stay in the pocket instead of freelance outside; coach Mike Mularkey even said, via the broadcast, that the plan was for Mariota "to take a sack" if necessary.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Mariota said after the game he was not hindered by the injury, telling reporters, "I felt good throughout. ... I just played my game. For me, I was just wanting to make a play for the guys. They made it easy on me. Protection was great. Receivers made a bunch of plays. Whenever we're able to do that, I think we can score a lot of points."

Limiting the QB's movement was not the best use of Mariota's talents, but it allowed for a few special plays, including the game-winning 53-yard toss to underused rookie Taywan Taylor with just over five minutes to go. Mariota's health will be something to monitor as the season rolls along.

  1. In his third career prime-time start, Jacoby Brissett (21 for 37, 212 yards, TD) showed flashes of greatness, but ultimately came up short in the second half. Unfazed by the moment, the Colts quarterback, still filling in for the injured Andrew Luck, led Indy to three first-half scoring drives, but was shut out of the end zone in the final two frames. Brissett has been competent in place of Luck, showing more mobility than and similar leadership skills to his predecessor, but he can't carry the team by himself. T.Y. Hilton, nicknamed The Ghost, was next to invisible, tallying just one catch against Logan Ryan and Adoree' Jackson; and Frank Gore and his 4.9 YPC were replaced by Robert Turbin in the backfield late in the game. Speaking of which...
  1. Marlon Mack isn't getting enough love, and it's a shame. The rookie back saw just two carries on Monday night and showed great burst and vision on a 22-yard scamper in the first half, but was absent as Indy's lead disappeared and the Colts turned to Turbin instead. The game-breaking back deserves more touches even if Chuck Pagano disagrees.
  1. Give some credit to the Titans defense, who bounced back with a great second half. The aforementioned Ryan and Jackson had arguably their best games of the young season, while old man Wesley Woodyard led the team with two QB hits and eight tackles, including the crucial, game-sealing takedown of Brissett on a fourth-down bootleg. The last we saw of Dick LeBeau's unit, it was struggling against a rookie in Deshaun Watson and a broadcaster in Jay Cutler. It's encouraging to see the defense put together a dominant half of football.
  1. If you're a fan of punts, Monday night's first half was absolutely not for you. Tennessee and Indianapolis went back and forth right from kickoff, alternating six eight-plus-play scoring drives in one of the quickest first halves of the season. It was the first game all year without a punt in the first two frames. On the scoreboard, the only difference between the Colts and Titans at the break was a Jack Doyle TD reception on Indy's second march.

But... if you like field goals, boy, did we have a night! Ryan Succop banged home five field goals on five attempts, while the legend in the flesh, Adam Vinatieri, was a perfect 3-for-3, including one from 52 yards out. Fun fact: Succop set an NFL record with his 47th consecutive successful kick inside 50 yards when he knocked in his first FG of the night, then extended the mark to 51 straight with four more such boots.

  1. We've got a logjam atop the AFC South. With the victory, Tennessee (3-3) moved into a three-way tie with the Jaguars and Texans, while the Colts fell to the division cellar yet remain just a game back at 2-4. Each club has question marks at quarterback, either because of injuries or inexperience, making this race one of the tightest and most underrated in the league. Results like these will count heavily when winter approaches.
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