Loss of Pees, Mariota complicate Titans’ tough Luck day
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel grabbed the headset and adjusted to calling the defensive plays as quickly as he could Sunday.
Andrew Luck kept the Titans off-balance the rest of the afternoon.
On a day quarterback Marcus Mariota left with an injured right elbow, the biggest question coming out the game was the health of defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was taken to a nearby hospital during the first quarter.
“Dean’s doing OK. They took him to the hospital, they evaluated him, and they’re going to keep him overnight for some tests,” Vrabel said following the 38-10 blowout at Indianapolis. “Everything that I’ve heard as of now has been very positive.”
Without Pees, the Titans’ usually strong defense didn’t look like itself.
Tennessee (5-5) entered the game with the league’s lowest-scoring defense, the fewest touchdowns allowed and back-to-back second-half shutouts.
This time, Luck carved up the Titans, going 23 of 29 with 297 yards, threw three touchdown passes, no interceptions and avoided being sacked in his fifth straight game.
The Colts jumped to a 24-0 lead, Luck improved to 10-0 against Tennessee and threw at least three TD passes in his seventh straight game, tying Dan Marino for the third-longest streak in NFL history. Only Tom Brady (10) and Peyton Manning (eight) remain ahead of Luck.
How much Pees’ absence affected the Titans wasn’t immediately clear. But after forcing a punt on Indy’s first series, it was a struggle to even slow down the Colts (5-5).
Pees managed to walk out of the coaches’ box without help, but the medical workers who had been called for assistance asked him to sit in a wheelchair to take him downstairs for further examination. The team issued a statement just before halftime saying Pees had been transported from Lucas Oil Stadium after he developed a “medical issue.”
The 69-year-old Pees, who retired briefly after last season, was in everybody’s thoughts.
“I want to start by wishing Dean Pees the best,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “I hope he’s doing OK. So our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
Luck began his postgame news conference with the same sentiment.
“First off, I hope Dean Pees is all right,” Luck said. “He’s a pretty famous name in this league.”
Vrabel declined to answer what prompted the call for emergency personnel, nor did he have an update about Mariota, who missed Week 2 with a right elbow injury before returning in relief in Week 3. Mariota finished 10 of 13 with 85 yards and one interception before leaving the game after he was sacked for the fourth time.
By then, the Colts already had a 1-yard TD run from Marlon Mack, a 22-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri, a 68-yard TD pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton and an 18-yard scoring run from Jordan Wilkins to make it 24-0.
Blaine Gabbert’s 6-yard pass and a 15-yard penalty on Indy safety George Odum set up the Titans for a 42-yard field goal. Tennessee didn’t score again until Gabbert threw a 1-yard TD pass to Tajae’ Sharpe with 1:49 to play.
Gabbert was 11 of 16 with 118 yards, one TD, one interception and one sack.
Now the looming question is whether Mariota can return for next Monday’s crucial showdown at AFC South leader Houston?
“I’ll address the injuries tomorrow when I have some more information,” a stressed Vrabel said.
Tennessee struggled to pressure Luck and allowed Hilton to catch nine passes for 155 yards, and they’ll need to play much better — with or without Pees and Mariota— to regain their footing.
“They were ready to go. They played much better than we did. They coached much better than we did,” Vrabel said. “We have to drop this and lose it after we make the corrections and get going.”