Indianapolis Colts kicker Pat McAfee (1) and teammate Jalil Brown (21) signal that the Colts have recovered the ball after Tennessee Titans' Devon Wylie fumbled a kickoff in the third quarter Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans are on their third kick returner of the season. The changes haven't helped them cut down on painful, costly mistakes.
Devon Wylie fumbled on a kickoff when he ran into the back of teammate Craig Stevens, and the Colts recovered, ending the Titans' first possession of the third quarter as Indianapolis scored 20 straight points to rally for a 30-27 victory Thursday night.
Wylie was promoted from the practice squad Tuesday to replace Damian Williams, who hurt his hip last week. Williams replaced Darius Reynaud after he made too many mistakes and was cut last month. The Colts (7-3) needed only two plays to turn that fumble into an 11-yard touchdown run by Andrew Luck.
"For whatever reason, we just can't hold onto the football," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "Another seven-point play really. You'd like the defense to stop them there to a three-pointer, but they didn't. ... When you're playing games like this, three-point games, you can't give away points."
Up 14-0 after the first quarter, the Titans (4-6) have lost five of six and two straight to divisional opponents in the AFC South when they couldn't recover an onside kick. They became the first team to lose to previously winless Jacksonville on Sunday, 29-27, and this loss really dims their hopes of their first playoff berth since 2008.
"We done enough talking," Titans running back Chris Johnson said. "Talking is just getting old. ... We definitely know we let one slip away, but at the end of the day these games slipping away, that's just getting old. We've just got to make plays."
The Titans started this game exactly the way they wish they had against the Jaguars. They scored on their first two drives with Johnson running for 70 yards on just eight carries in the first quarter, and he scored on a 30-yard run. His second TD on a 7-yard run was one of his best as Colts safety Antoine Bethea hit him at the 2 only to see Johnson twist and push his way across the goal line.
Tennessee had a 148-4 edge in total offense with the strong start and wound up holding the ball more than 9 minutes of the first quarter.
Then the Colts, who have won four straight and nine of the last 10 in the divisional rivalry, started getting going.
The Titans missed an opportunity in the second quarter when the Colts had a mini-meltdown with three personal fouls — one declined in favor of a Robert Mathis blow to the head of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The highlight of the Colts' penalties was when linebacker Erik Walden head-butted Delanie Walker after ripping off the Tennessee tight end's helmet. They settled for a field goal.
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 30-yard field goal as the first half expired to pull the Colts to 17-6, and Indianapolis opened the third with a 74-yard drive capped by the first of Donald Brown's two TD runs to pull within 17-13.
That's when Wylie was running upfield when he ran into Stevens with the ball popping out with 8:27 left.
The Titans had plenty of time in the fourth quarter but couldn't stop the Colts after Rob Bironas' second field goal. But the defense, which added several players offseason to stop the run better, allowed Indianapolis to run on 10 of 11 plays before Brown scored the clinching TD on an 11-yard run with 3:01 left.
Munchak said a defense has to be able to stop an opponent from running in that situation.
"They did exactly what they wanted to do," Munchak said. "We didn't stop them. They ran the ball much better than they should have been able to. They ran a handful of plays, all plays we anticipated them running against us."
Now the Titans have a long weekend to rest up and re-evaluate before a three-game road swing. They finish the season with four of six on the road.
"We've got to find that winning formula, whatever it is," Fitzpatrick said. "We have to find a way to pull these games out at the end. It's a tough locker room in there right now. That's two in a row that kind of slipped away from us. Two big ones, two costly ones for us."
NOTES: Vinatieri tied his career best with his fourth field goal from at least 50 yards this season. He is 4 of 6 this season in that range. ... The Colts are 8-0 under coach Chuck Pagano when not turning over the ball. ... The Colts improved to 4-1 on the road this season. ... Walker caught a career-high 10 passes for 91 yards. ... Titans WR Justin Hunter was being evaluated for a head injury.