NASHVILLE, Tenn. —** The last two times the Indianapolis Colts traveled to Nashville, Titans fans had to watch quarterback Andrew Luck rip Tennessee's heart out and stomp on it in the fourth quarter.
But in front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota delivered some surgical payback of his own.
Playing on a bum leg that took away his fleet feet, Mariota still rallied the Titans to a streak-snapping 36-22 victory at Nissan Stadium. The stat line that stuck with me afterward was this: Mariota led the Titans to touchdowns on all of their final three possessions, completing 11-of-11 passes for 150 yards and one score.
It was a performance that was very reminiscent of, well, Luck at his best.
"I think there's lots of similarities between them – both franchise quarterbacks and all the stuff it implies," Titans linebacker Erik Walden said. "But it's great to have our guy back there. I call him `The Silent Assassin.' He doesn't say much. He just goes out there and does his thing. He's a tough guy."
Walden was Luck's teammate the past four years in Indianapolis, so he was on hand to watch the Colts quarterback perform a pair of comeback carvings in Nashville.
In 2015, the Titans led the Colts 27-14 with less than seven minutes remaining in the contest, only to see Luck miraculously guide Indy to 21 points in under four minutes.
In 2016, the Titans were up 23-20 with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, but couldn't stop Luck from throwing the game-winning touchdown pass seconds later.
Those were the kinds of hard-Luck outcomes that had Titans fans scratching their heads prior to Monday night, wondering just what it would take for Tennessee to snap its 11-game losing streak against Indianapolis.
Enter Mariota, whose hamstring strain had been significant enough that he was limited all week in practice. It wasn't until the weekend that Titans coach Mike Mularkey even decided Mariota would play against the Colts.
"He's as tough as I've been around," said Mularkey, noting Mariota's mobility was "very limited."
With Tennessee trailing the Colts 19-15 late in the third quarter – and having failed to score a touchdown to that point – Mariota marched the Titans 87 yards into the end zone. He accounted for 76 of those yards through the air, completing eight-of-eight passes.
When Indy tied the game 22-22, Mariota responded again, this time in even faster fashion. He connected on three straight passes, the final one a 53-yard touchdown bomb to Taywan Taylor that put the Titans ahead for good.
"That says a lot about Marcus, him having an injury and missing a week, then coming out and playing the way he did tonight," Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. "That's why I call him my leader on this team."
Added left tackle Taylor Lewan: "The guy's a complete stud. I mean we've been saying it since day one. The guy's a franchise quarterback and he deserves everything he gets."
We can't give Mariota all the credit, of course, for Tennessee's first win over the Colts since Oct. 30, 2011.
A Titans defense that couldn't force an Indianapolis punt in the first half completely transformed itself in the second half. Tennessee didn't allow the Colts a first down in the third quarter and surrendered just three points over the final 30 minutes.
"When we play on all cylinders, we are a tough defense," Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "We communicate, we fly to the ball and we hit."
Still, the Monday Night spotlight shone brightest on Mariota, despite the fact he didn't gain a single yard on the ground. The Titans' third-year quarterback planted himself in the pocket and put together his most productive passing contest of the season – in a game his team really needed to win.
Sure, the Titans would have been just a game off the pace in the AFC South had they lost. But it would have been harder to argue that things were changing for the better had the Titans lost twice in three weeks to division rivals Houston and Indianapolis. It would have been a strike against the Titans in the event of playoff tiebreakers at season's end as well.
A hamstrung Mariota put an end to those concerns.
He did so with a cutthroat performance in the late going, one every bit as clinical as Luck had delivered in the past.
-- Reach John Glennon at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.
The Tennessee Titans take on the Indianapolis Colts in Week 6 action on Monday Night Football at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)