The fondest memory I have of the Indianapolis Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl season isn’t the Super Bowl itself. Prince’s iconic halftime performance was infinitely more entertaining than that rain-riddled battle royale against Rex Grossman.
I do remember the defense allowing 99 yards per rushing attempt. As well as my visceral reaction to the franchise’s first ever loss to the Houston Texans (I literally cried). Those memories will scar me for the rest of my life, but I digress.
The most gratifying moment of that season wasn’t beating the Chicago Bears — it was the team Indianapolis beat before the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots.
Up until that season, Peyton Manning and the Colts were consistently tormented by New England in big games. During the 2003 postseason, Manning scorched the Broncos and Chiefs for a combined 681 yards and eight touchdowns, only to throw four interceptions against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. The next January, Manning again shredded the Broncos (458 yards, four touchdowns), only to put up three points in Foxborough the next week.
So when Manning finally defeated his arch nemesis in the 2006 AFC Championship, the Super Bowl was anti-climactic. When people think of the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, the moment is beating New England in comeback fashion.
For Manning and the Colts, it was a rite of passage. They couldn’t just win a Super Bowl. They had to beat the Patriots. None of Manning’s MVP awards or record-breaking seasons mattered. Until they topped New England, the elusive Lombardi Trophy would only continue to elude Indianapolis.
I say all of that to say this: The 2018 Tennessee Titans don’t have Peyton Manning at quarterback. They barely have Marcus Mariota. What they do have is a hurdle that always seems to slow them down — Andrew Luck, who has a career record of 10-0 against the two-toned blue.
The NFL couldn’t have scripted this any better. The grand finale of arguably the most entertaining regular season in league history takes place next Sunday night, and the stakes are as high as possible. It’s a de facto playoff game where the winner earns the No. 6 seed, and the loser clears their lockers and sets camp on their living room couches.
Nobody needs to inform the Titans that Sunday’s game is literally a do-or-die scenario. However, it’s time for the team to grow up and beat Andrew Luck.
What Tennessee has on its side is familiarity with the circumstances. Last season, the Titans needed a Week 17 victory to make the playoffs. However, that matchup was against Blake Bortles and the fluky Jacksonville Jaguars. For whatever reason, Tennessee has Jacksonville’s number, while the complete opposite is true in regards to Luck.
The seventh-year quarterback isn’t posting earth-shattering numbers against the Titans. In the 10 games, he’s completed 63 percent of his passes, averaged 265 yards per game, and has 18 touchdown passes to eight interceptions. There are a handful of great performances sprinkled in, but Tennessee’s Achilles heel against Luck is the inability to string together four quarters of consistent football.
As the New York Giants learned last week, if you don’t bury the Colts when you have them dead to rights, Luck is more than capable of leading a comeback. In 91 career games, he’s orchestrated 21 game-winning drives and 17 fourth-quarter comebacks. A few of those have come against Tennessee.
Basically, stopping Andrew Luck is a nightmare for any team, and with pro bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey on IR, the Titans’ job just became a whole lot tougher.
However, if Tennessee wants to take the next step in the franchise’s evolution, they have to beat their arch nemesis. If they fall to 0-11 against Luck with him heading into the prime of his career, what’s the expectation moving forward?
It’s impossible to tell right now, but on Sunday night, the Titans need to grow up, and grow up fast.