Colts' playoff hopes barely holding on after fourth-quarter meltdown

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts are kicking their way out of the playoff race.

The Colts dropped their second straight game and fourth in the past five when they gave up 24 unanswered points in their 31-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The Colts, once in first place in the AFC South with a 5-2 record, have to take care of business and get help from other teams in order to get back to the playoffs for the second straight season. The Colts (6-6) play three of their final four games of the season on the road, including a Monday Night Football contest at New Orleans.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett had his faults, but the special teams unit, led by veteran Adam Vinatieri, continues to be a disaster for the Colts.

Vinatieri missed three kicks, two of them being blocked. Sunday marked just the third time in Vinatieri's 24-year career that he missed three field goals in a game. The NFL's all-time leading scorer is having the worst season of his career, as he's missed 14 kicks -- six extra points and eight field goals -- this season.

There was no bigger miss, which wasn't technically his fault, for Vinatieri than in the fourth quarter. The Colts were in position to take a three-point lead with a little more than five minutes left when Vinatieri lined up for a 46-yard attempt. Titans defensive back Dane Cruikshank basically came in untouched for the block, with the ball bouncing to cornerback Tye Smith, who scooped it up and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown. Sunday marked the first time that Vinatieri had multiple kicks blocked in a game.

The Colts aren't capable of blowing teams out. Their margin of error is so slim because injuries to key players such as receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Eric Ebron and running back Marlon Mack. And Vinatieri -- traditionally one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL -- being more of a liability than an asset hurt the Colts in close losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season. Only two of the Colts' 12 games have been decided by more than seven points.

Promising trend: The defense, which for so many years was a weak link for the Colts, had a season-high five sacks in the first half and also forced two turnovers. That was the most sacks in a half by the Colts since they had five in the second half at Minnesota late in the 2016 season. The Colts finished with six sacks. That type of performance should be able to put the offense in position to be successful. That wasn't the case because the offense messed up a solid defensive effort.

QB Breakdown: Brissett went from looking he'd have a strong bounce-back from his worst performance of the season against Houston in Week 12 (129 yards passing) to being part of the problem. He was 25-of-40 for 319 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. One of the those interceptions came deep in Colts' territory, when he tried to force a throw to tight end Jack Doyle instead of throwing the ball away. Brissett's throw sailed high and was picked by Titans safety Kevin Byard. Brissett’s accuracy was questionable all game. He tied his career high with seven overthrown passes, three of which were intended for Doyle.