Monday, January 3, 2011

Titans vs. Colts: Indianapolis Reaches Playoffs for 9th Straight Time

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are going to the playoffs yet again.

Manning, the four-time Most Valuable Player and an 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback, threw two touchdown passes Sunday, as the Colts beat the Tennessee Titans, 23-20, at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

Adam Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal as time expired gave the Colts the victory.

With the win, the Colts clinched the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. They had clinched their seventh AFC South title in eight seasons when Jacksonville (8-8) lost at Houston moments before the Indianapolis-Tennessee game ended.

That sent the Colts to the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, tying them with the 1975-83 Dallas Cowboys for the most consecutive postseason appearances in NFL history.

A few thoughts on the Titans-Colts game:

• After losing their first two games in the AFC South, the Colts won their last four to finish 4-2 in the division. They never have had a losing record in the South, and only once have they finished .500 -- that was in 2006, when they won the Super Bowl.

• So much for the notion that the Titans would quit Sunday. Not even close. The Titans had lost to Kansas City, 34-14, and although commentators around the country predicted an easy Colts victory, the Titans played hard the entire game.

• The Titans stayed in the game with a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes by 16-year veteran quarterback Kerry Collins. He threw a 21-yarder to Kenny Britt on the Titans' first drive of the quarter and a 15-yarder to running back Chris Johnson on the second. The 15-yarder tied the game at 20-10 with 4:18 remaining in the quarter.

• Manning's 208th consecutive start set an NFL record for the most consecutive starts at the beginning of a career.

• The Colts hurt themselves with dropped passes in the second half, including one by wide receiver Pierre Garcon on a long pass on third down early in the third quarter. The Colts had scored on all three of their first-half possessions, but punted on two of their first three possession in the first half as Tennessee gained momentum. The Colts scored in the third quarter on a 30-yard pass from Manning to Garcon to take a 20-13 lead.

• Vinatieri continued to have perhaps his best season since joining the team five years ago as a free agent from New England. His 48- and 44-yard field goals in the first half kept the Colts even, and he converted 25 of 27 field goals this season.

• The Colts have been strong versus the run late of late. They held the Raiders and Darren McFadden and the Jaguars and Maurice Jones-Drew each under 100 yards the past two weeks, and held the Titans to 51 yards. Johnson had five yards on nine first-half carries and finished with 39 yards on 20 carries.

• There was a Randy Moss sighting for Tennessee Sunday. After catching five passes for 62 yards in his first two months with the team, he caught a huge 18-yard gain on the sideline midway through the third quarter. The play was reviewed and was ruled to have been a catch. It led to a Titans touchdown on a pass from Kerry Collins to running back Chris Johnson that tied the game with 4:18 remaining. Moss played extensively in the second half with Kenny Britt out with a groin injury.

• When Titans kicker Rob Bironas kicked a 42-yard field goal with 6:48 remaining in the second quarter, it tied his own franchise record of 20 consecutive field goals. The kick tied the game, 6-6. Bironas' streak ended when he was short on a 58-yarder on the final play of the first half.

• Colts linebacker Gary Brackett could be getting fined by the NFL again. When Bironas missed the 58-yarder at the end of the half, safety Antoine Bethea nearly returned the miss for a touchdown. The key block was thrown by Brackett on linebacker/long snapper Ken Amato, and Brackett was penalized for an illegal blindside hit. He has been fined $10,000 and $15,000 for hits this season.

• Amato did not return and the long-snapping duties in the second half were performed by rookie Kevin Matthews.

• The Titans worked wide receiver Kenny Britt early. He was targeted seven times in the first quarter and a half, with four receptions for 64 yards. That helped Tennessee stay in the game early.

• Britt caught his ninth touchdown pass of the season early in the third quarter. The play gave Britt nine touchdown receptions this season, the most by a Titans player since 2004. Britt missed four games this season with a hamstring injury. He finished the game with five receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown.

• The Titans ran the wildcat formation with rookie wide receiver Damian Williams early. They had been working with the formation in practice, and on their first play using it, Williams rushed for a five-yard gain.

• Former University of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer watched the game from the Indianapolis sideline. Fulmer coached Manning in college.

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