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Stalled Colts

Tennessee upsets Indianapolis 19-16 in divisional playoffs

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Posted: Tuesday February 01, 2000 09:12 AM

  Eddie George broke the game open with this 68-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. AP

INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- The Tennessee Titans didn't need any kind of miracle this time. They just needed running back Eddie George, their defense and some help from the videotape -- instant replay, that is.

George scored on a 68-yard run on the third play of the second half Sunday to lead the Titans to a 19-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts and a trip to Jacksonville for the AFC title game.

That was just what the Titans wanted.

Just before the Tennessee Titans came out to warm up for their AFC semifinal with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, coach Jeff Fisher pulled Eddie George aside.

"He asked me to relive draft day back in 1996," George said. "He told me to remember that he drafted me because he felt I could lead this team to where we are now. He challenged me to live up to expectations."

George did live up to expectations, running 68 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the second half to lead the Titans to a 19-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts and a trip to Jacksonville for the AFC title game.

"I told him that when we traded down, then up, to get you in that draft, it was for games like this," Fisher said.

"It was kind of special," the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner said of his coach's comment.

George was kind of special, too, gaining 162 yards on 26 carries as Tennessee played the game at its pace, not the run-and-gun pace the Colts would have preferred.

And everyone contributed. The defense, even with star rookie Jevon Kearse producing little, held Peyton Manning and the prolific Indianapolis offense to just three field goals until Manning ran 15 yards for a touchdown with 1:51 left.

But that was too late -- Yancey Thigpen recovered an onside kick and the Titans ran out the clock.

Steve McNair Steve McNair's 29-yard run in the second quarter gave Tennessee a first down and set up a field goal. AP  

George hoped to do well against an Indianapolis defense that allowed 4.2 yards per carry and was depleted by the absence of veteran linebacker Cornelius Bennett. Still, he carried just nine times for 38 yards in a first half that ended with the Colts ahead 9-6 on three field goals by Mike Vanderjagt to two by Al Del Greco.

But early in the second half, he took a handoff from Steve McNair, cut through a huge hole in the middle of the Indianapolis line created by a failed blitz, and outraced the secondary for the game's first TD. Del Greco later added two more field goals.

George was so clear, he even spent a little time watching TV during the run.

"I looked up at the video screen to see how close the pursuers were," said George, who was caught just as he reached the goal line. "I almost got caught looking."

The Titans, who needed a lateral that turned into a 75-yard kickoff return with three seconds left to beat Buffalo in a wild-card game last week, will play in the franchise's first conference title game in 20 years. Tennessee handed Jacksonville its only two losses this season, 20-19 in Jacksonville and 41-14 at home three weeks ago.

The Tennessee defense, meanwhile, shut down an offense that averaged 26.4 points and was held to less than 20 points just three times during the regular season, once in a meaningless final game.

"The way the game was going, we had no choice but to shut them down," said Kearse, the defensive rookie of the year, who himself was shut down -- he had only one assisted tackles and was credited with two passes defended.

On the other hand, the offensive rookie of the year was also shut down -- the Colts' Edgerrin James, who grew up just 25 miles from Kearse in southwest Florida was held to just 56 yards on 20 carries and caught just one pass for eight yards.

And if Kearse rarely got close to Manning, the rest of the defensive line was helped by the double teams he drew. Although Manning wasn't sacked, Kenny Holmes and several other defenders were constantly in his face.

"I got close once and we made eye contact," Kearse said of Manning, who was sacked just 14 times all season while Kearse had 14.5. "I told him he could at least let me have one sack."

The Tennessee secondary, led by safety Blaine Bishop, also played well.

  CNNSI.com

Manning, who completed 62.1 percent of his passes during the regular season, was under 50 percent Sunday, going 19-of-43 for 227 yards.

Then replay finally did in the Colts, who finished 13-4, but left coach Jim Mora winless in five playoff games, the first four with New Orleans.

Five minutes into the fourth quarter, with the Titans leading 16-9, the Colts' Terrence Wilkins broke a punt return and finally went out of bounds at the Tennessee 3.

"It was a good call," Mora said. "If he was out of bounds, he was out of bounds. Those are the rules."

Replay showed that Wilkins stepped out of bounds. And while Tennessee had to burn a timeout to get its challenge heard over the din of the crowd at the RCA Dome, it paid off -- referee Johnny Grier viewed the replay and brought the ball back 63 yards to the Colts 33.

That did it.

The Colts went three-and-out, and Derrick Mason's 19-yard punt return to the Indianapolis 42 set up Del Greco's fourth field goal. On the next series, Kearse got into the act, tipping a pass attempt by Manning on third down.

And when the Colts finally scored, it was too late -- they were out of timeouts, and the onside kick didn't come close to working.

"We just came up short against a very good team," Mora said. "We had trouble making a play, particularly making big plays. It was a struggle all day, both sides of the ball."

But the Colts, who were 3-13 a year ago and whose 10-game improvement was the best in NFL history, seemed satisfied with their season.

"We had a heck of a season," Manning said. "We'll try to reload a little. I'm confident we can get right back here next season."

Notes: Eddie George rushed for only 38 yards in the first half, but his 68-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the third quarter made him the first player in Titans franchise history with consecutive playoff games of at least 100 yards. He finished with 162 yards on 26 carries. ... The Colts' Edgerrin James, the NFL offensive rookie of the year, had 56 yards on 20 carries. ... Tennessee held Indianapolis to 6 yards rushing and 51 yards passing in the third quarter, when the Titans took the lead. ... The Titans had 54 sacks in the regular season -- third-best in the NFL -- and six in a wild-card victory over Buffalo, but did not get to Peyton Manning, the league's best-protected quarterback. ... Tennessee's Jevon Kearse, the NFL defensive rookie of the year, had one assisted tackle against the Colts. ... An apparent 87-yard punt return to the Tennessee 3 early in the fourth quarter was brought back after a successful challenge by the Titans. A review by officials showed Terrence Wilkins stepped out of bounds at the Indianapolis 33. ... The only turnover was on a fumble by George with just over three minutes remaining, setting up the Colts' only touchdown on a 15-yard run by Manning. ... The game was the first at home in the postseason for the Colts since the then-Baltimore Colts lost in two overtimes to Oakland in 1977. ... Among four honorary captains introduced before the game was former coach Ted Marchibroda, now a member of the Colts' broadcast crew. ... Jim Mora coached his 204th game, but remained winless in five playoff appearances. ... The victory sent the Titans to the AFC championship next week at Jacksonville, whose only two losses this season were to Tennessee. ... The Titans had not won a divisional playoff game since 1979 against San Diego. ... Al Del Greco's 49-yard field goal that tied the game 3-3 on the first play of the second quarter was 1 yard short of his season-long. Del Greco broke a tie with Toni Fritsch and moved into second on the Tennessee postseason scoring list. He now has 45 points. ... Colts receiver E.G. Green was taken off the field on a stretcher and examined for a possible broken leg. His 33-yard reception on the play set up the second of three first-half field goals by Mike Vanderjagt. The only other injuries were mild ankle sprains by the Colts' Ken Dilger and Ratcliff Thomas and a thigh bruise by the Titans' Blaine Bishop. ... The Colts led the AFC and were third in the NFL in scoring for the season, but Manning's TD run with 1:51 to go was their first touchdown in eight quarters. ... Manning, who earlier had a streak of 27 games with at least one touchdown pass, finished without a TD throw for the third straight game.


 
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Tennessee's Jeff Fisher admits his team isn't blowing anybody out -- but the Titans continue to advance nonetheless. (100 K)
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Peyton Manning says the Colts, a team that won ten more games than it won the year before, will contend again next year. (136 K)
Jeff Fisher says he was confident that Eddie George would pay dividends in big playoff games. (149 K)
George reveals he was simply taking advantage of opportunities provided by his offensive line. (126 K)
Tennessee's Kenny Holmes predicts his team will rise to the occasion once again when the Titans meet Jacksonville. (92 K)
Tennessee's Eddie Robinson says the Titans and Jaguars know each other very well, and both will know what to expect. (66 K)
Tennessee's Yancey Thigpen realizes the Jaguars are seeking revenge. (77 K)
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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