Two of the youngest teams in the NFL squared off in Tennessee on Sunday, but the maturity difference between the two squads became obvious by halftime.
The Colts dominated their AFC South opponent with another powerful performance by their defense and a four-touchdown aerial attack by their offense, reminiscent of last year's "Greatest Show on Turf."
The defense entered the game with three consecutive games of holding their opponents to less than ten points. And when the clock ticked off on this one, they came within a point of joining the 1962 Packers as the only teams since World War II that accomplished that feat over their first four games of the regular season.
The Titans' only scores of the game came on a Rob Bironas 34-yard field goal on their first possession, and a Steve McNair toss to tight end Bo Scaife with just over four minutes remaining in the game. Bironas missed a 38-yarder in the third quarter following a penalty for a false start on a 4th-and-1 at the Colts' 16-yard line. The missed points opportunity while trailing 24-3 was a backbreaker for the Titans.
Tennessee was flagged nine times for 76 yards, including a 15-yarder against rookie cornerback Adam "Pac Man" Jones -- who played like a rookie in his debut as a starter while trying to keep pace with the seasoned Colts receivers. He also fumbled once on a kickoff return when linebacker Keith O'Neil reached in and ripped the ball out of his hands. But the Titans recovered the loose ball.
The Colts defense came up with their share of big playes, including sacks by Robert Mathis and Josh Thomas. But none was bigger than safety Bob Sanders' huge hit on wide receiver Drew Bennett inside the Colts' 5-yard line. Bennett leapt for the ball and as soon as it hit his hands, Sanders mauled him, preventing him from gaining control of the ball as it slid down his arms. Sanders slammed Bennett to the turf so hard that the Titans' receiver actually bounced off the turf like a basketball rebounding off a hardwood floor. The ball popped into the air, and Sanders, who was on the ground as well, got up on his knees and alertly snatched the ball for an interception to kill the late first-half drive. Sanders also led the team with 10 tackles (8 solo, 2 assists).
The turnover was the only one of the day by either team, with the Colts playing nearly flawless football and drawing just one penalty flag all day. Running back Ran Carthon fumbled on a kickoff return, but it was recovered by Indianapolis.
Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes, including a pair to Marvin Harrison. The second one came in the early moments of the fourth quarter and was the duo's 85th touchdown, placing them in a tie for the all-time tandem record with the 49ers' Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Harrison's first touchdown catch of the day, with just over a minute left in the first half, was his 100th career touchdown.
Manning's other two touchdowns were caught by Reggie Wayne on a well-executed 25-yard pass into the left corner of the endzone on their first possession of the day, and by Edgerrin James on a quick pass over the middle from the Tennessee 8-yard line. The Colts quarterback completed 74% of his passes (20-27) for 264 yards.
Steve McNair finished 28 for 37 (75.6%) but had just 220 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Eighteen of his completions were short passes underneath to his three tight ends, averaging just 6.4 yards per catch. But he didn't have much choice as the Colts secondary smothered the wide receivers while the defensive line applied ample pressure. He completed just six passes to wide receivers, including just two to Drew Bennett for 20 yards.
The Colts defense thwarted the Titans' attempts to get a respectable ground game rolling with Chris Brown. He finished the day with 10 rushes for a measly 31 yards and didn't break a single run for more than eight yards. He was eclipsed by McNair who scrambled for 40 yards on four attempts. And on the Titans' final possession with the game well out of reach, they handed the ball off to Jarrett Payton -- son of Hall of Famer Walter Payton -- four times in his NFL regular season debut. He converted those chances into 37 yards to help push the Titans' team rushing total to 109 yards on the day.
The Colts put a tighter grip on their AFC South lead with a 4-0 record as the rest of the division lost their contests. The Titans fell to 1-3 while the Jaguars lost at home to the Broncos. Jacksonville is now 2-2 while the Texans, who lost 16-10 after a controversial fumble call in Cincinnati, are still winless at 0-3. The Colts play at the 49ers next Sunday while the Titans will host the Texans.
Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Washington and Tampa Bay are heading into week five as the only undefeated teams in the NFL.
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