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Colts grab AFC South control

12/8/2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Becoming road warriors may have helped
the Indianapolis Colts find their way home -- at least once -- for
the playoffs.

Question on the Colts: How important was it for Indy to hold on late, considering how last week's game ended?
This was a big win for the Colts after last week's close loss. This team has put together a great season and the defense has a bend but don't break philosophy that seems to make plays when it counts. It's great that QB Peyton Manning and coach Tony Dungy were able to get this big victory and sweep the season series.

Question on the Titans: Did this loss essentially kill their Super Bowl hopes since they'll likely be a wild card?
If the Titans are the wild card, it'll be in a ton of trouble. The Titans are playing with an injured quarterback and an inconsistent running game. Having to go on the road with those components could be the death knell for the Titans' Super Bowl hopes. It needs to win its final three games and hope for a little help to avoid this situation.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

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 left ankle in the second quarter and
aggravated his already sore right 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.

The Tennessee defense forced the Colts to punt with 50 seconds
left, giving McNair plenty of time. But Justin McCareins fumbled
after an 11-yard return, and Anthony Floyd recovered for the Colts.

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.

Game 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.