NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans weren't able to make good of their win-and-in playoff opportunity.
And because of it, players left Nissan Stadium disappointed after a 33-17 loss to the Colts.
"When you are not in the playoffs, it is a disappointing season," Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "I don't care if we won nine games or not, we are still not where we want to be. We haven't accomplished any goal that we wanted to accomplish. We are not in this thing to go 9-7 or 10-6. We are in this thing to go to the Super Bowl, and we didn't do it. So we have to get better."
The Titans (9-7) forced a win-and-in playoff scenario by winning four straight games in December. With nine wins, the Titans recorded three straight winning seasons for the first time in the "Titans era."
None of it mattered on this night, however, because the Titans lost once again to the Colts, who celebrated their playoff berth on a field with a Titans logo.
"It's heartbreaking," tackle Taylor Lewan said. "This is what you play for – you play for the postseason. It is unfortunate when we didn't come out on top."
Blaine Gabbert started at quarterback in place of Marcus Mariota, who was among the team's inactives. Mariota was limited in practices leading up to the contest with neck/foot injuries, and the team held him out.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said the decision to keep Mariota sidelined was made by a group of team officials.
"It was a decision that a lot of people came together and made," Vrabel said of Mariota. "He wasn't out there tonight, and wasn't available. All of our players want to play, every single guy wants to play – that's why they're in this business. Sometimes that's not always possible. …
"Marcus didn't play tonight," Vrabel added. "I am not going to go into much detail with where he's at physically, and the decision … He didn't play, and I am not going to sit here and discuss Marcus."
Gabbert completed 18-of-29 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown in the contest, but he threw a pair of interceptions in the second half.
Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for 93 yards, and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the contest. But it wasn't enough, as the Titans fell behind early and couldn't catch up.
The Colts jumped on the Titans early, taking a 7-0 lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts stretched the lead to 14-0 on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Luck to tight end Eric Ebron.
Then, linebacker Jayon Brown stepped up and made a pair of mammoth plays for the Titans.
First, Brown intercepted Luck and returned it for a 22-yard touchdown to make it 14-7. After Adoree' Jackson mishandled a punt by the Colts, which was recovered by Indianapolis at the Tennessee nine-yard line, Brown did it again. Brown forced a fumble, and then recovered it to give the Titans the ball once again.
"It was a lit situation," Brown said. "Whenever a defensive touchdown comes, it lights a spark. I was glad I was able to feed the team."
The back-to-back defensive plays reenergized the crowd at Nissan Stadium, and it was 17-10 Colts over the Titans at the half following field goals for each team – a 53-yard kick by Adam Vinatieri with 39 seconds left before the half, and then a 38-yard kick by Ryan Succop at the halftime horn.
The Colts stretched the lead back to 24-10 on their first possession of the second half, however, on a one-yard touchdown pass from Luck to tight end Ryan Hewitt.
But the Titans answered back. After a 33-yard run by Henry, Gabbert connected with tight end Luke Stocker for a 22-yard touchdown that made it 24-17 late in the third quarter. The Titans had the ball with a chance to tie with just under 10 minutes left, but Gabbert was intercepted. The Colts turned it into another Vinatieri field goal to make it 27-17 with 3:55 left.
A late touchdown run by Marlon Mack made it 33-17 with 2:24 left.
On Monday, Vrabel will have a season-ending press conference on a day when players clean out their lockers at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
"We need to do a better job of being ready to go and making sure that we take advantage of all our opportunities and that we're probably shouldn't reflect on the season tonight," Vrabel said of his message to the team after the game.
"I give the Colts a lot of credit. They're a good football team that won nine of their last 10 games, so make sure that we don't overlook the fact that we should give them some credit and we have to play better and again, just stick together and make sure we're moving forward and find a way to take the next step as an organization."
The Tennessee Titans prepare to take on the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17 of the 2018 season on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018 at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
Tennessee Titans players and coaches arrive for Sunday night's Week 17 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Al Wagner, Gary Glenn, AP)