INDIANAPOLIS — The significance of having such Indianapolis Colts legends as Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Jeff Saturday back in the building wasn’t lost on first-year head coach Frank Reich.
Colts royalty had returned to Lucas Oil Stadium as a tribute to wide receiver Reggie Wayne being inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor. Their presence also meant the home team couldn’t lay an egg and spoil the celebration.
No need to worry, a Sunday of opposite extremes saw the Colts cruise to a stunningly easy 38-10 win over the Tennessee Titans, who lost quarterback Marcus Mariota to an elbow injury in the second quarter and saw defensive coordinator Dean Pees taken to a hospital during the first half with a “medical issue.”
Before commending his team on “as complete a game as you can play” in its fourth consecutive win, Reich acknowledged thoughts and prayers for Pees, a longtime respected NFL assistant. Titans coach Mike Vrabel said his coach was doing OK but would be kept overnight for observation.
Before the game, Reich’s thoughts couldn’t help but linger about the special Colts guests in the building.
“I’m not going to lie, especially because I was here with a lot of those guys before (as an assistant coach), I felt a lot of pressure,” Reich said. “There could have been nobody else in the stands but those guys and I wanted us to have a good outing. I wanted those guys to be proud. Those guys represent what Colts football is all about. It was especially fun today to have that kind of game in front of our all-time greats.”
Added left tackle Anthony Castonzo, “Next time we see ‘em, (we’ll) be able to say, ‘We put on a little show for you guys.’”
Their season written off my some at 1-5, the Colts have now won four consecutive games to pull even with the Titans (5-5) in second place of the AFC South Division. Houston (7-3) won its seventh consecutive game to maintain a two-game advantage.
The Titans entered with the NFL’s stingiest scoring defense at just 16.4 points allowed per game. The Colts surpassed that in a quarter in 22 minutes, 26 seconds on Andrew Luck’s 68-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a 17-0 lead. Luck was well on his way to improving his career mark against the Titans to a perfect 10-0.
“I can't really elaborate on what happened other than we got our butts whooped today,” said Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
The Colts advantage reached 24-0 before the Titans finally scored on a last-play field goal before intermission.
"Whether you lose in the last second of the game, like in Buffalo, or you don't play or coach well today, the message is that it's a loss,” said Titans coach Mike Vrabel. “They all hurt. They all count the same. Whether we handle success or failure, I think that we're 5-5.”
A Titans defense that had blitzed New England’s Tom Brady into an embarrassing 34-10 blowout last week didn’t get to Luck once. The Colts quarterback hasn’t been sacked in a franchise-record five consecutive games, a “clean” streak of a career-best 214 pass attempts. He’s thrown at least three TD passes in seven consecutive games, tying Dan Marino for the third-longest streak in NFL history.
Hilton caught all nine of the passes thrown his way for 155 yards and two scores.
“There are things that are still out there that we need to clean up,” Luck said, “but I think every week, we do it a little better.”
A Colts defense led by NFL leading tackler Darius Leonard sacked the Titans five times, one more sack than the unit had registered in four games. The rookie weakside linebacker had one of those sacks as well as an interception in a seven-tackle game.
“We’re coming,” Leonard said of the message sent in the AFC South. “What you saw earlier in the year wasn’t us. Now we’re playing great and hopefully we can keep coming.”
On an afternoon where Wayne was honored at halftime, it was fitting that the Colts re-connected with their current Pro Bowl star wide receiver. In weeks past, Hilton had been used more as a decoy while Colts tight ends caught a league-best 15 of Luck’s 26 TD passes.
Not this day. Right from the first play, a wide receiver screen, Hilton was going to be involved.
“Most of the games, they come in and take me out of the game. That’s fine, other guys eat,” Hilton said. “They didn’t do that. They felt confident in their cornerback sticking me. They allowed him to play one-on-one coverage. They have to live with it.”
Titans second-year cornerback Adoree Jackson, a former first-round draft choice who has been playing well, got humbled by Hilton this day.
“He was on fire,” Jackson said. “Hell, yeah, that's as bad as it's gonna get. You give that up, you're gonna feel bad. I don't even care if we won, you give up 155 and two touches (touchdowns), that's still terrible.”
Hilton’s performance made a certain Colts assistant coach rather proud. Nobody enjoyed the day more than Wayne.
“Yeah, a lot of emotions,” Wayne said. “I had to hold it in. There was a little wager on if I was going to shed a tear or not, so I had to keep tight.”