Some may find the Tennessee Titans’ predilection toward gathering on their opponents’ midfield logo off-putting. Some might find it disrespectful, especially when it includes a little whooping and hollering.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh made it clear he’s in the latter camp a week ago, when the Titans added some spice to their pregame gathering at the Ravens’ logo, causing Harbaugh, in very Harbaugh fashion, to respond passionately by verbally jousting with Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel before and after the game.
Granted, had the Ravens shown the same fight during the game, they wouldn’t have netted a loss that essentially put their Super Bowl hopes to bed. They were beat up and on the verge of a depressing COVID-19 crisis. So it’s understandable how they ended up getting beaten at home.
The Indianapolis Colts, the Titans’ opponents on Sunday, could have been a different story. For as good as the Titans have been the past two seasons, which includes a surprising run to the AFC championship game, the Colts have been their kryptonite.
Entering the contest, the Titans went a paltry 1-4 in their past five meetings against the Colts. That included a 34-17 loss two weeks ago in which the Colts marched into Tennessee and beat the Titans in every phase.
Tennessee’s recent history made the Titans’ pregame decision in Indianapolis interesting. They marched into Lucas Oil Field on Sunday and, prior to the game, gathered at the Colts’ midfield logo. Not because it was inflammatory, as by all accounts it was more mild this time, or unusual, as the Titans do this before every game. The routine stood out because they had to know that people would be watching after last week’s altercation, including the Colts, and they did it anyway.
As Heath Ledger’s Joker would say: I like that.
The Titans remained resolute in doing what they do. They were effectively saying, “This is how we prepare to win a football game, damn it,” and you need a little “eff you” edge to win in this league. They also managed to back it up, courtesy of a 45-26 pounding of the Colts that improved their record to 8-3 and gave them a one-game lead over Indianapolis for the AFC South title.
And let’s be real here: The way the Titans won Sunday mattered far more than anything they did before the game. Against the Colts, the Titans proved once again that they are a mentally and physically tough team, two traits that traditionally play very well in the playoffs.
Not only did the Titans score 45 points — the most the Colts, owners of the league’s No. 2 defense, have allowed at home in franchise history — they also did it by pounding away with their bread-and-butter, the power run game.
It’s worth noting that the Colts’ third-ranked run defense was missing a number of key players, including defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Denico Autry, and linebacker Bobby Okereke. That doesn’t, however, excuse the work that Derrick Henry, Tennessee’s star running back with a stiff arm from hell, put in Sunday.
While Henry racked up 178 yards and three touchdowns, the Titans as a team notched 229 yards on 45 carries — an average of 5 yards a tote — and four scores. It was Henry’s eighth straight road game with 100-plus yards, the second-longest streak since the 1970 merger, and his big day was complemented by a passing game that was good enough to win on Sunday but is, quite often, better than that.
Nevertheless, the Titans’ playoff hopes will ultimately rest with their defense, which has been underwhelming all season but has shown some encouraging signs of improvement in the past two weeks.
Colts quarterback Philip Rivers nearly threw for 300 yards again, but the Colts mustered only 56 rushing yards Sunday, less than half of the 133 they racked up against the Titans’ 20th-ranked run defense two weeks ago.
After the way the Titans held Baltimore’s offense in check a week ago, this is significant progress, regardless of the fact the Colts were missing left tackle Anthony Castonzo and center Ryan Kelly, two of the league’s best at their respective positions.
But hey, the NFL is a production league, one that’s about winning games — period. You are what your record says you are, and right now, the Titans are also tied with two other teams for the third-best record in the conference, behind two bona fide Super Bowl contenders in Kansas City (10-1) and Pittsburgh (10-0).
The Titans can take a massive step toward joining the Chiefs and Steelers in the AFC penthouse next weekend. They host Cleveland, which also sits with an 8-3 record, on Sunday.
Yet, barring something unforeseen, the Titans will have to win at both Kansas City and Pittsburgh if they want to get to the Super Bowl. That’s no easy task, so to do it, they’ll need everything they showed Sunday: a bruising run game, an improved defense and yes, no shortage of confidence.
So when the time comes, don’t be surprised if that includes another pregame gathering at the midfield logo, and if there’s some whooping and stomping and such. The Titans play with an edge they will very much need if they want to establish themselves among the NFL’s elite.
More from Yahoo Sports: