Colts hold off hard-charging Titans 29-27
Posted: Sunday December 7, 2003 6:21PM; Updated: Sunday December 7, 2003 10:10PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Becoming road warriors may have helped the Indianapolis Colts find their way home -- at least once -- for the playoffs.
Edgerrin James ran for two touchdowns and Mike Vanderjagt kicked five field goals Sunday as the Colts beat Tennessee 29-27 to sweep the defending division champion Titans, taking control of the AFC South with three games remaining.
The Colts (10-3) improved to 6-1 on the road, putting them on track for their first division title since winning the AFC East in 1999, and the chance to host at least a wild-card game.
They did it by scoring 19 straight points and forcing four fumbles, which they turned into nine points. They also held the ball for nearly 34 minutes.
"We had to win this game to have control of the division," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "Now we do. Now we don't have to rely on any help from anyone else. If we win our games, we'll be in good shape."
In this game featuring would-be MVP quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Steve McNair, Manning easily outplayed McNair, even using his legs to scramble for a couple of first downs. He ran for 20 yards and was 22-of-34 for 228 yards in setting a club record with his 93rd consecutive start.
"I'd like to think I've got enough toughness to play the position," Manning said.
McNair sprained his right ankle in the second quarter and aggravated his already sore left calf, but he still nearly rallied the Titans (9-4) to a tie. He threw two touchdown passes in the final 9:24 and even ran for a 2-point conversion.
McNair pulled the Titans within 29-27 with 1:52 to go with his second TD toss, a 2-yarder to Derrick Mason. McNair tried to find Mason again on the 2-point conversion, but defensive end Dwight Freeney, held to one sack, tipped the ball, and it fell incomplete.
McNair finished 22-of-38 for 235 yards.
"We control our own destiny as far as our playoff future, but the division title is out of our hands right now," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
The best way to slow down McNair was to keep him and the NFL's best offense in time of possession off the field entirely. The Colts did that during a nearly 15-minute stretch in which they ran 34 straight offensive plays.
"You're never comfortable when Steve is on the other side," Dungy said. "I thought he played great. We were fortunate in that we were able to keep the ball away from him a lot."
The Titans, who had won 10 consecutive home games, were kept out of Colts territory from the end of the first quarter until late in the third because of three fumbles.
Eddie Berlin, returning kicks for the first time this season, fumbled twice. Vanderjagt kicked field goals after each, including a 23-yarder for a 12-10 lead just before halftime.
"It was really a nightmare," Berlin said. "I was trying to make a play so badly out there and get a chance at some returns."
Indianapolis could do little wrong for much of the game.
James bobbled a handoff and still ran in for a 2-yard touchdown on the Colts' opening drive of the third quarter for a 19-10 lead.
Gary Anderson's second field goal, a 40-yarder, made it 22-13. But Manning needed only four plays to answer. He connected with Marvin Harrison for a 16-yarder and a 42-yarder, and James scored on a 5-yard run for a 29-13 lead. James finished with 27 carries for 95 yards.
Tennessee led 10-3 after the first quarter on McNair's 2-yard TD scramble on third-and-1.
Vanderjagt kicked field goals of 35, 36, 26, 23 and 21 yards. His 26-yarder in the third period gave him 37 consecutive field goals, second-longest streak to Anderson's 40.
Notes: Vanderjagt last kicked five field goals on Oct. 13, 2002, against Baltimore. ... A 9-yarder from Manning to Harrison in the second period was their 600th completion, making them only the second duo with 600 passes and at least 8,000 yards. The first? Jim Kelly and Andre Reed with Buffalo. ... Mason caught a 15-yarder from McNair in the third quarter, giving him more than 1,000 yards receiving for a third straight season, the first receiver to do that in franchise history. ... Titans TE Frank Wycheck finished with three catches, giving him 501 for his career. He is only the fourth tight end in NFL history with at least 500 career receptions.