NASHVILLE, Tenn. If familiarity does indeed breed contempt, then it is easy to surmise the Titans and Colts don’t care much for each other.
And since the Colts have pretty much owned their AFC South rivals the past decade, including the come-from-behind win here two weeks ago, the Titans surely have plenty of disdain for the franchise that replaced them last decade as the division’s flag bearer.
On Sunday, the division-leading Colts (7-4) will host the Titans (5-6). Losers of two of their last three games in lopsided fashion, the Colts are trying to limp into the playoffs as the division winner.
The Titans, meanwhile, are attempting to keep heads above water in a jumbled race for the final wild-card playoff berth.
Then again, a Titans victory would pull them within one in the AFC South, with four games left. But that’s also the same scenario from two weeks ago, when they blew an 11-point halftime lead and lost to Indy on Nov. 14.
“Well, you certainly know each other,” said Colts coach Chuck Pagano, whose 3-0 record against the Titans has only added to the team’s overall 17-4 stance against the division foe since the start of the 2003 season.
“From a preparation standpoint, having played only a couple weeks ago, you’re going to continue to prepare the way you always prepare,” he added. “Certainly, they know us, and we know them. We’re both fighting for the same thing.”
And that would be the playoffs, a place where the Colts have been 10 of the last 11 seasons and the Titans haven’t been since 2008.
“We just played them two weeks ago, so they’ll do the same thing,” said Titans coach Mike Munchak, whose team is coming off a 23-19 win at Oakland that kept their playoff hopes very much alive.
” … We know what play they’re going to run,” he added. “It’s just a matter of their window dressing to get to them or have some counters off those plays, things like that that hides it.”
With the Ravens improving to 6-6 on Thursday night, beating the 5-7 Steelers, the Titans need a victory Sunday to keep pace for the final wild card playoff spot.
Also on Sunday, the Jets (5-6) play at the Dolphins (5-6), with one team getting to six wins (barring a tie), while the Chargers (5-6) host the AFC North-leading Bengals hoping to do the same.
Meanwhile, the Titans are hoping to build on last week’s victory against the Raiders in which quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 30 of 42 passes for 320 yards and led a game-winning touchdown drive.
Rookie receiver Justin Hunter and second-year receiver Kendall Wright had 109 and 103 receiving yards, respectively, and each scored a touchdown, including Wright’s game-winner from 10 yards. “We’re certainly well aware of their capabilities,” Pagano said of the emergence of Hunter and the continuing success of Wright, who slightly injured a leg against Oakland but is expected to play Sunday. “They’re great players. They’re dangerous.
“They can score from anywhere. Ryan (Fitzpatrick) is doing a great job of distributing the ball, and they’re making plays.”
Against the Colts, the Titans will be without free safety Michael Griffin, who was suspended because of a hit on Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera last Sunday. It was the second time this season the NFL had deemed an improper hit by Griffin came on a defenseless receiver.
But Griffin already had missed two games because of an injury, so veteran George Wilson will fill in again, as the Titans are preparing for the second time in three games to face second-year Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
“We’ve been through it a few weeks ago when (Griffin) was hurt,” Munchak said, “so we went through a couple games there without him. We’d rather have him, but we’ll be OK.
“The whole thing is, when you go lean in certain spots or you lack experience, it’s all about not picking up an injury early in the game where it becomes more affected than it is right now.”
After losing top receiver Reggie Wayne to injury last month, the Colts have struggled recently. Before beating the Titans two games ago, the Colts fell 38-8 to the Rams in their worst home loss in two decades. Last Sunday, they fell behind 27-3 at halftime before losing 40-11 at Arizona.
“Certainly, nobody wants to lose in a fashion that we have lost a couple times in the last four weeks,” Pagano said. “I credit our coaches and our players and our vets. They got great resolve. They’re a very resilient bunch.
“To this point, they’ve been able to put the last one behind them, so to speak, and move on.”
In the previous meeting, the Colts took advantage of a fumble on a kickoff return by Devon Wylie to start the second half that not only turned into a touchdown but completely changed the momentum of the game.
Earlier this week, the Titans signed two-time Pro Bowl return specialist Leon Washington to return kickoffs and punts.
“It’s good to have someone like him here,” Munchak said of signing Washington, the eight-year veteran who has more yards (8,002) combined on kick and punt returns than all but three other current NFL players, including the Jets’ Josh Cribbs, Saints’ Darren Sproles and Bears’ Devin Hester of Chicago.
“He’s a true professional in how he approaches the game, how he prepares for a guy that’s been in that position for a lot of years,” Munchak added. “He’s a guy that some of our guys can learn from how he handles, approaches that position.
“At some point, he can probably help us in other areas. But for this week, it’s mainly going to be taking care of the ball for us.
Pagano agreed that Washington adds a new dimension to Titans special teams.
“He’s done it for a long time, eight years,” Pagano said. “He’s got the stats to prove it. We’ll have our hands full. We’re going to have to do a great job with our coverage units.”
Trying to beat a desperate Titans team for the second time in three games will also be a chore, especially for the division rivals that know each other so well.
“I think bottom line is every team every week does what they do well,” said Munchak, whose team is seeking a third-straight road win for the time during his tenure. “They know they’re going to see certain things, but it will come different ways. We’ll disguise it with formations, motions, how you do things. We’ll have multiple things out of the same packages.
“… It’s just a matter of their window dressing to get to them or have some counters off those plays, things like that that hides it. They can guess that it’s going to be this or this, but they don’t know which is coming. It’s not as hard as you think.