By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
The Indianapolis Colts spent their short preparation week for tonight's road game against the Tennessee Titans focusing on the future.
There was no time to dwell on the past.
If the goal is to erase memories of Sunday's horrendous 38-8 home loss against the St. Louis Rams, what better way to get there than by taking a big step toward the team's first AFC South title since 2010?
The Titans (4-5) have lost four of their last five games — including a 29-27 home defeat against the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday — and trail Indianapolis (6-3) by two games in the division standings.
A win tonight would give the Colts a three-game sweep of their division rivals on the road and a commanding three-game lead in the standings with six regular season games to play.
"This game probably can't come fast enough, even though you'd love the time to heal up and get your legs back and all those things," Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano said. "It's an opportunity not only for us but them to try to get a bad taste out of your mouth."
Right guard Mike McGlynn returned to practice on a limited basis Tuesday and appears likely to play despite a fractured thumb. Nose tackle Josh Chapman also returned to practice this week and will likely return to the lineup tonight.
But cornerbacks Greg Toler and Josh Gordy and safety Delano Howell will miss their third straight contest with various injuries.
And the defensive backfield has felt their loss.
Indianapolis has allowed four touchdowns on pass plays of 40 yards or more in the past two weeks, despite facing backup quarterbacks in Houston's Case Keenum and St. Louis' Kellen Clemens. The Colts face another reserve signal-caller tonight, with Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over for the Titans under center.
Starter Jake Locker suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury against Jacksonville, but Fitzpatrick is no stranger to Indianapolis. He'll make his third start of the season and his 70th of a nine-year career that also includes stops in St. Louis, Cincinnati and Buffalo.
Fitzpatrick made 52 of those starts in four years with the Bills, including a 20-13 loss in which he threw for 181 yards with one touchdown and one interception last year against the Colts.
"There's a body of work there that we can go off and our guys can see," Pagano said. "We played against Ryan in the past, and we know he's more than capable. Again, I just think it comes down to communication, execution front to back, everybody being on the same page and doing their job."
The Titans have dangerous young receivers in Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, but head coach Mike Munchak has emphasized old-school, smash-mouth football. To that end, he imported free agent guard Andy Levitre and drafted Alabama guard Chance Warmack.
Along with free agent running back Shonn Greene and incumbent Chris Johnson, they were supposed to help create a road-grading run game to help wear opponents down. Results, however, have been mixed.
Tennessee ranks 13th in the NFL in rushing and a woeful 19th in scoring offense.
In any case, the Colts expect to get a full-on, physical fight from the Titans.
"I think we're excited that it's a Thursday game, that we can get back on the field as soon as possible and atone for our sins, if you will," Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I'm sure the Titans are feeling the same way, but it should be a fun, tough-nosed, heavyweight matchup."
Luck has plenty of sins that need to be absolved. Despite throwing for a season-high 353 yards Sunday, he had one of the roughest games of his two-year career.
His three interceptions doubled his season total, and two of those picks came in the end zone as Indianapolis fruitlessly attempted a comeback in the second half.
It was the continuation of a disturbing trend for an offense that has struggled in two games without star receiver Reggie Wayne. The Colts are 1-1 since losing their offensive leader, and they had to overcome an 18-point deficit late in the second half of the victory.
But that's where the short week might help.
Indianapolis has a chance to stop thinking about what could go wrong, or who is missing from the lineup, and just go out and play. It's a big game on a big stage.
And victory could bring a big reward.
"We realize it's big for us, it's big for them," Luck said. "It'll be fun being on a Thursday night. It'll be the only game on NFL-wise. So we know it's a huge opportunity. Any division game is very big in its own right."