Time was in the Tennessee-Indianapolis rivalry that the Titans, overmatched and shorthanded, resorted to gimmicks to stay within earshot in games against the Colts.
The infamous onside kicks game from 2004 where the Titans kept recovering onside kicks early in the game to bolt to an early 24-0 lead, only to have the Colts eventually steamroll them 51-24.
Then, in 2006, the Titans sprung a version of the option with Vince Young on the Colts to help keep themselves in the game.
But Monday night, the gimmick was on the other foot, as the Colts opened in a 4-4-3 set, replacing their starting free safety with linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, who came down as an eighth man in the box.
It was something the Titans admittedly had never seen before from Indy, which came in determined to stop Tennessee’s rushing attack that featured Chris Johnson. Mission accomplished in a sense — Johnson was held to 77 yards Monday night.
But the Colts could not overcome the savvy presence of quarterback Kerry Collins and Mike Heimerdinger, who simply adjusted on the fly and went to the air with the Indianapolis secondary a man short.
“Certainly it was a departure from what they’re used to doing,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “Obviously, it was their attempt to try and address and shut down our run game. They must have felt that having four linebackers on the field with four down linemen was going to obviously give them the best chance. It did, and it was very effective.
“It also suggests that you’ll have opportunities to make plays elsewhere. That’s basically what Mike and Kerry did. They kind of took advantage of it. When they recognized it, they picked it up and started throwing it.”
Collins said after the game that the Colts, “gave us some different looks. We made some really good adjustments at halftime.”
Colts coach Tony Dungy could only tip his hat as the Titans and Collins took the dare and made Indy pay.
“We figured they were going to pound us, and we put the four backers in there, and they ended up throwing the ball a lot more,” Dungy said.
In all, Collins completed 24 of 37 passes to nine different receivers for 193 yards. And though he did not have a touchdown pass, Collins avoided interceptions and sacks once again. He has just three interceptions this year and has been sacked only once.
Injuries: Fisher said defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, deactivated for the first time as a Titan after 54 consecutive starts, was better than he was the week before in Kansas City, where he departed after three plays, but the Titans decided that discretion was needed. They didn’t want to risk Vanden Bosch worsening the injury and potentially missing more time.
“That’s the concern. Yeah, we’d like to get him back to where he’s full speed and as close to 100 percent as we can because we don’t want to have any setbacks,” Fisher said.
Vanden Bosch’s ticketed replacement Dave Ball suffered a concussion on the opening kickoff and never played a snap on defense, giving way to Jacob Ford and rookie William Hayes.
“We kept four healthy defensive ends up,” Fisher said. “That was our goal going in when we made the decision to hold Kyle another week. So we went down to three and they played hard, the three of them played very hard. It was good to see them respond.”
Ball and running back Quinton Ganther both suffered concussions, which Fisher said have cleared up.
“They’re both doing fairly well today. They both cleared up on the sideline and they’re both doing well. They will be most likely a game-time decision but probably day-to-day,” Fisher said.
Explosiveness: Fireworks went off right before Rob Bironas’ 44-yard field goal in the second quarter, but the kicker was not distracted, nailing the kick for his 12th consecutive made field goal this season. He later missed a 43-yarder snapping his streak. Bironas had actually made 20 straight field goals dating back to last year, tying Al Del Greco’s franchise record.
“There was a timing issue. It came at the absolute worst time,” Fisher said.
Still, Bironas was unfazed.
“I don’t think he realized they went off until somebody told him. Rob was fine. [Holder] Craig [Hentrich] was very aware of the situation,” Fisher said.
The people in charge of the fireworks actually went 0-for-2, setting them off again when it looked as if Ahmard Hall had caught a touchdown pass from Kerry Collins in the fourth quarter. Hall actually dropped the ball, and the pass was ruled incomplete. LenDale White later scored on a 1-yard run.
Not looking ahead: At 7-0 and a four-game cushion in the AFC South, Fisher insisted the Titans are not looking at the big picture yet — even if it means they are in control of their own destiny, unlike the past two years when they needed to win and get help to keep their playoff hopes alive down the stretch.
“You can’t consume yourself with what may happen weeks down the road. The only thing you can affect is the upcoming week and that’s the great approach that they’re taking,” Fisher said.
Nomination: Former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, who was inducted into the team's ring of honor Monday night along with Eddie George and Steve McNair, is one of 11 first-time nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In all, there are 133 names on the preliminary list of former players coaches and contributors to pro football, including Titans owner Bud Adams.
Wycheck retired after the 2003 season and had the fourth highest receptions total all-time among tight ends at the time of his retirement.