Colts Clinch Playoff Berth With 35-3 Win

Earlier this week Titans rookie Pac Man Jones told the media he was "pretty sure" Tennessee would pull off an upset at Indy. On Sunday, the Titans didn't even come close.

On Sunday afternoon against the Titans, Peyton Manning (13-17-187) threw for three touchdowns,  reaching the 25-touchdown mark for his his eighth consecutive season.

Edgerrin James surpassed 9,000-yards rushing in his 93rd game, second to only Eric Dickerson in NFL history for reaching that mark the quickest. And with 107 yards on 28 carries (3.8 avg), he now has 49 career 100+ yard games, including nine this season.

Marvin Harrison caught his 10th touchdown pass of the year, his eighth consecutive season achieving that feat.

Dwight Freeney moved within half a sack of 50 for his career in his fifth season with two sacks, boosting his season total to 9.5.

Oh, and by the way, as the Colts continued to notch impressive individual performance records, they clinched their sixth consecutive playoff spot with a 35-3 thrashing of the Titans.

The game started out as a bit of a pitcher's duel with Titans quarterback Steve McNair completing 12-15 passes for 113 yards in the first half while Manning hit 8-12 for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns. 

McNair moved his team with little help from the rushing game as the Colts defense held Titans RB Chris Brown to 32 yards on 11 carries. But Colts safety Mike Doss made two big  plays to end first-half drives engineered by McNair, including a tackle that forced a punt and a smart last-second slap at that ball out of tight end Ben Troupe's hands. What would have been a Tennessee touchdown, closing the gap to 14-7 at the half, was minimized to just three points of damage as the Titans had to settle for a 24-yard Rob Bironas field goal instead.

Also causing problems for the Titans in the first half were Dwight Freeney, who sacked McNair, Cato June who pressured the Titans quarterback into an incompletion on a 3rd down, and Robert Mathis who dismantled a trick play to Pac Man Jones. The resulting 13-yard loss pushed the Titans back to the point where they had to try a 51-yard field goal, which was missed by Bironas.

Manning hit Marvin Harrison for a 10-yard touchdown on their first drive following two other Harrison catches for an additional 46 yards. He then tossed to a pass to tight end Bryan Fletcher in the second quarter for 13-yards and Fletcher's third-touchdown of the year. Like the Titans, the Colts didn't focus much on the run early, with Edgerrin James getting just nine carries for 30 yards.

But that changed dramatically in the second half.

On their first possession of the third quarter, the Colts gave the ball to James seven times out of their ten-play drive that was topped off with a 27-yard pass to Reggie Wayne at the expense of rookie cornerback Pac Man Jones.

The Titans had to turn to backup Billy Volek part way through their next possession as Steve McNair bruised a shin, Defensive tackle Larry Tripplett welcomed Volek to the action with one of the Colts four sacks on the day, disrupting their progress enough that the Titans turned the ball over on downs two plays later.

The Colts took over at their own 32, and put the next eight plays in the hands of Edgerrin James. Two catches and six runs, plus a five-yard penalty against the Titans, was all the Colts needed to break the game open to 28-3. The highlight of James' drive was a 21-yard rush to the Titans' 2-yard line.

The Titans tried once more to get points on the board and got to the Colts 26 before Dwight Freeney got his second sack of the day, popping the ball up into the air as he knocked McNair to the ground. Larry Tripplett caught the loose ball in midair and sprinted 60 yards for the touchdown to put the game away at 35-3.

The Colts began subbing players defensively with roughly 12 minutes left in the game, and the Titans tried to take advantage of it. Rob Morris, Gilbert Gardner, Gerome Sapp, Dexter Reid, Kelvin Hayden, Keith O'Neil, and Von Hutchins all rotated in for some well-deserved playing time. The Titans drove to the Indy 2-yard line against them, but then the Colts pulled it together and the Titans were denied as four consecutive passes fell to the turf.

The Colts turned the ball over once during the game on poor timing during a handoff from Manning to James. But they rebounded from their 12-penalty performance against the Steelers with just five in this contest.

With the win, the Colts not only earned a playoff berth, they also eliminated the Patriots from any mathematical chance of earning the postseason top seed in the AFC. And since the Steelers lost, they also can't challenge the Colts for the top seed any longer. Should the Chiefs or the Chargers lose their late afternoon matchups, they would also be out of the running for the top seed.

The Colts head to Jacksonville for a 1 pm (ET) showdown that would allow them to clinch the AFC South at the expense of the team that has become their top rival over the last couple of seasons. The Jaguars improved to 9-3 with a 20-14 win at Cleveland.


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