Luck can extend mastery of Titans, put Colts in playoffs
By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Pro Football Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Andrew Luck is a win away from putting the Indianapolis Colts back into the playoffs for the first time since 2014 while doing something no NFL quarterback has managed since at least 1970.
Beat an opponent 11 straight games.
Luck has won his first 10 games against the Tennessee Titans, matching Hall of Famer John Elway, who went 10-0 against the Patriots. Another victory Sunday night would leave Luck all alone in dominating another team with an AFC wild-card berth at worst for the Colts (9-6).
Not that Luck is counting on past success, especially after the Colts needed a late TD to edge the Giants 28-27 for their eighth victory in nine weeks.
“What happened previously and what happened in previous years, it doesn’t matter,” Luck said. “What happened last weekend does not matter. It’s a new cycle.”
Tennessee safety Kevin Byard refuses to ponder why Luck has tormented the Titans so. The Titans are 2-3 against the Colts in Byard’s three seasons — Luck missed 2017 with a shoulder injury — and four straight wins have Tennessee (9-6) a win away from a second straight postseason berth.
By kickoff, they’ll all know exactly what’s at stake. The AFC South title will be up for grabs if Houston loses to Jacksonville. Even crazier for the Titans, a No. 2 seed with a first-round bye would be available if the Texans, Patriots and Ravens all lose. That’s more than enough to keep the Titans focused.
“We’re just blessed to be in this position to be playing for a playoff game, so that’s all the motivation that guys need,” Byard said. “They’ll be motivated, we’ll be motivated. It’ll be a fun game.”
Some things to know about the final game of the NFL’s regular season:
The Titans may not know if quarterback Marcus Mariota will play against the Colts. Mariota was knocked out of the Titans’ 25-16 victory over Washington last weekend with a stinger — the same injury that kept him out of a 38-10 loss Nov. 18 in Indianapolis. Mariota is optimistic he’ll play instead of backup Blaine Gabbert.
“This is what it’s about,” Mariota said. “You’re playing for everything. I’m doing everything I can day and night, and just trying to make sure that I can be ready.”
This division rivalry has been one of the most lopsided in football over the past 15 years.
Since losing three straight against the Titans from 2000-02, Indianapolis is 25-6. While the Titans often came up short against University of Tennessee grad Peyton Manning, they have been even worse against Luck. It’s not just Luck and Manning who have been problematic for the Titans. Matt Hasselbeck and Dan Orlovsky, now both ESPN commentators, also beat the Titans in backup roles. Hasselbeck also played for the Titans from 2011-12.
The Titans will be without a pair of defensive starters. Four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (left knee) was placed on injured reserve Monday , a week after cornerback Logan Ryan went on IR with a broken left leg. If starting linebacker Brian Orakpo misses a third straight game with an elbow injury, that would be a big hit for the NFL’s No. 2 scoring defense.
Tennessee defensive coordinator Dean Pees will be available for a unit that has allowed two offensive TDs over the past four games. Pees missed most of the first game against the Colts after being taken to an Indianapolis hospital, where he spent the night.
The Colts are banged-up as well, waiting for tight end Eric Ebron to clear concussion protocol, while center Ryan Kelly has an injured neck.
One difference from the last game between these teams is Derrick Henry. The Titans running back leads the NFL with 532 yards rushing and eight TD runs in December, though he had nine carries for 46 yards against the Colts in November.
“He’s as good as advertised,” Colts linebacker Anthony Walker said. “He’s big, he’s explosive, and when he gets outside he’s a problem in the open field. Definitely, have to get him before he gets going.”
ONE FOR THE AGES
Adam Vinatieri has been achieving new feats all season and can add a couple more just three days after celebrating his 46th birthday.
If the league’s oldest active player — and NFL’s new career scoring leader — simply appears Sunday, he would break a tie with Jeff Feagles (352) for the third-most games played in NFL history and become only the fourth player to participate in a game at 46. The others are George Blanda (48), Morten Andersen (47) and John Carney (46).
And he may not be finished yet.
Vinatieri signed a one-year contract in March to stay with the Colts and has expressed interest in continuing to play in Indy next season.
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed to this report.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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