- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Tennessee came to Indianapolis looking for anything that would provide some offseason momentum.

The consolation prize was getting the No. 1 overall draft pick.

Two recently-signed Colts quarterbacks each threw a touchdown pass in the first half and Jerrell Freeman opened the second half by returning an interception 23 yards for a score to give Indianapolis a 30-24 victory in the season finale.

“I thought the first five minutes of the second half is what broke us. We made a game of it at the end, but that didn’t help,” Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey said. “Today was a good description of the year.”

Just plain tough.

Tennessee (3-13) lost its last four to secure the top draft pick.

Zach Mettenberger, who is 0-10 as a starter, ran for one touchdown but was 5 of 13 for 38 yards with an interception before leaving with a hand injury. Backup Alex Tanney, who spent most of the season on Indy’s practice squad, finished the game and threw a late TD pass.

Delanie Walker caught nine passes for 94 yards to become the first Titans’ tight end with a 1,000-yard season and only the ninth tight end in league history with 90 or more catches in a season. He finished with 94 catches and 1,088 yards.

But that didn’t matter to a team that has lost nine straight in this series and now must await a decision on whether Mularkey will be back.

“I tried to do everything I could. I felt we got a lot accomplished,” said Mularkey, who was 2-7 in the interim job. “Obviously, I’d like to have an opportunity to sit down and talk about it. I think we’re very close here, and I’d like to help make that happen.”

They didn’t look close against Indy’s backups.

The Colts avoided their first losing season since 2011 but didn’t get enough help to make the playoffs. Now they, like the Titans, are waiting to learn the fate of their coach.

Indy could have made the playoffs with a Houston loss - and if seven other games fell exactly the right way.

Instead, the Texans’ 30-6 victory over Jacksonville ended that hope and perhaps coach Chuck Pagano’s tenure in Indy.

“To sit there and go 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback and then to pull off, I don’t know if this has ever happened before in the history of the National Football League, where you bring in two guys off the street and basically get three days to prepare these guys and go win a football game,” Pagano said.

The past two weeks might be the most creative coaching Pagano has done in his four-year tenure.

Indy (8-8) needed two wins to stay in the playoff hunt and managed to get both despite using four different quarterbacks including two, Freeman and Lindley, who were signed Tuesday after spending the whole season out of the NFL.

So the coaching staff split the workload. They asked Freeman, a former first-round pick, to learn the regular offense and Lindley to figure out the two-minute drill.

Together, they made it work.

Freeman was 15 of 28 with 149 yards, one TD and one interception. Lindley was 6 of 10 with 58 yards and threw an 18-yard TD pass with the 13 seconds left in the first half to give the Colts a 20-14 lead.

But with Pagano’s contract set to expire, this not just another game.

One fan held a sign that read “Chuckstrong,” a phrase that was used during Pagano’s battle with leukemia in 2012. Another fan used blue face paint to write the words “Chuck Stay” on his forehead.

When the game ended, several players hugged Pagano on the sideline. Pagano then jogged to the tunnel, pointing to the crowd and tapping his chest several times.

Pagano, who is 41-23 and has made three playoff appearances, is expected to meet with team owner Jim Irsay on Monday.

“Hell yeah we want (Chuck) back,” safety Mike Adams said. “Given the circumstances, and how we fought, the way we came out, (Chuck) should be back.”

NOTES: Indy’s Adam Vinatieri made three field goals and finished the season with 107 points, extending his NFL record of 100-point seasons to 18. … Colts running back Frank Gore ran 19 times for 76 yards and became the 15th player in league history with 12,000 yards rushing. … Walker finished the season with 94 catches and 1,088 yards. … Safety Damion Stafford left the game with a broken arm.

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide