INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Dane Cruikshank and Tye Smith teamed up to make a game-changing play Sunday.
It could turn out to be a season-turning one for Tennessee, too.
Cruikshank raced through an inside gap to block a potential tiebreaking field goal late in the fourth quarter and Smith returned it 63 yards for the go-ahead touchdown to send the Titans past Indianapolis 31-17.
“It's huge,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said after improving to 5-1 since replacing Marcus Mariota as the starter. “A division game on the road, it was a huge game for us.”
The ramifications go far deeper than just another win, though.
By snapping a three-game losing streak against the Colts, Tennessee (7-5) moved one game in front of its AFC South rival, evened the season series and has the same number of division losses as Indy. All of those could factor into tiebreaking scenarios.
By beating a foe that had won 14 of the previous 16 in the series and eliminated the Titans from playoff contention in Nashville last year, the Titans should get a major confidence boost, too.
And the way they won might be the most encouraging sign of all.
“It's almost looking like a weapon for us,” coach Mike Vrabel said when about his field-goal blocking unit. “We blocked two and forced another miss (today). They're excited. They know if everyone does their job, we have a chance to get one. Every week we look for ways to go affect the kick, and it really comes down to effort.”
The Titans have now blocked three kicks in three weeks and forced three more turnovers Sunday to help them score the final 24 points.
Derrick Henry had 26 carries for 149 yards and scored on a 13-yard TD run on fourth down to cut the deficit to 17-14 in the third quarter.
Tannehill wound up 17 of 22 with 182 yards and two TDs — sealing the victory with a 40-yard TD strike to Kalif Raymond with 3:02 to go, exactly two minutes after Smith’s score.
Indy (6-6), meanwhile, continues to struggle.
The Colts have lost four of five, falling from first in the division to third and they hit the road for three of their final four games and with their injury-depleted offense finding points increasingly scarce.
This time, it wasn’t just the offense. Jacoby Brissett was 25 of 40 with 319 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and he couldn’t generate any points over the final 25 minutes while Vinatieri missed three field goals in all. Vinatieri has missed 14 kicks — eight field goals and six extra points this season.
“I can't ever see what's going on because I'm looking down at the ball. Whenever you hear ‘pop-pop’ that's never a good sign,” Vinatieri said. “I felt like my timing and get-off time was good and all that stuff, so I don't think that was the issue, but we'll watch film and figure it out.”
Titans: Allowed five sacks in the first half but only one in the second half. ... Henry became the first Titans running back to surpass 1,000 yards rushing in consecutive seasons since Chris Johnson in 2012-13. ... Linebacker Harold Landry III got a sack in his fifth straight game.
Colts: Vinatieri missed a 55-yarder to the right and had a 53-yarder blocked in the first half. ... Indy’s streak of 29 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard runner came to an end. ... Zach Pascal caught seven passes for 109 yards and Jack Doyle had six receptions for 73 yards including a 21-yard TD catch. ... Nyheim Hines scored on a 1-yard TD run in the third quarter.
Titans: Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson left in the first half with a knee injury and returned briefly before leaving a second time. He did not play in the second half. Linebacker Daren Bates (shoulder) also left in the first half.
Colts: Indy started the game without Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf), Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron (ankle) or starting running back Marlon Mack (hand) and lost receiver Chester Rogers (knee) on their first series of the game. Safety Kenny Moore II (ankle) left in the second half.
THEY SAID IT
Titans: “Momentum doesn't go from Sunday to Sunday,” Vrabel said. “Momentum builds throughout the week and it something that can carry over, and I think it has. It's fun watching those guys play.”
Colts: “He got between the wing and our end,” Reich said of Cruikshank. “He should not get there.”
Titans: Finish a two-game road trip next Sunday at Oakland.
Colts: Begin the final four-game stretch by visiting Tampa Bay next Sunday.