Edgerrin James topped 100 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season Sunday while the Colts used another strong defensive effort and two time-consuming drives in the second half to hold off the Cleveland Browns 13-6.
"There's been times where we've been 2-1 and scoring a lot of points and everybody says, 'What's wrong with the defense?'" Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "I think when our offense gets into situations when we have to score and play up-tempo, I'm pretty
confident we'll be able to score."
Indianapolis (3-0) followed this year's standard formula to win a record seventh straight at the RCA Dome.
With the Browns (1-2) defending the deep pass, Manning let James grind it out. He carried 27 times for 108 yards, and the Colts' suddenly impressive defense took care of the rest by pressuring Trent Dilfer and shutting down the Browns' running game.
Indianapolis has allowed 16 points in its first three games, the best start in franchise history. The previous best was in 1971, when the Colts allowed 17 points before posting a shutout in Week 4. The Colts are the sixth team since World War II to hold the first three opponents to single digits, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Only the 1962 Packers did it in the first four games.
"They're making you throw the ball in front of them and using their speed to make the plays," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "They're fast."
For the third straight week, an opposing defense kept Manning and the Colts' high-scoring offense from getting in sync.
Manning was 19-of-23 for 228 yards with one interception against his old nemesis, Crennel, who had won six straight against Manning since 2001 as Patriots defensive coordinator.
Still, Manning did enough to become the second-fastest quarterback to top 30,000 yards passing in his 115th game. Miami's Dan Marino did it in 114 games.
Manning also hooked up with Marvin Harrison six times for 53 yards, making the duo the most prolific in NFL history. Harrison and Manning have now combined for 9,568 yards, breaking the quarterback-receiver record previously held by Buffalo's Jim Kelly and Andre Reed. Kelly and Reed combined for 9,538 yards.
Dilfer was every bit as good as Manning, the two-time MVP. One week after outplaying three-time MVP Brett Favre in Green Bay, Dilfer stood up to the pressure and finished 22-of-29 for 208 yards.
Reuben Droughns carried 22 times for 76 yards, and after Cleveland and Indianapolis entered the game as the league's only teams that hadn't allowed a sack, the Browns allowed four in the first half. Last year's sacks champion Dwight Freeney had three of them.
Dilfer also had to shake off a couple more big hits in the third quarter, including one that appeared to be low -- a tactic opponents have complained about recently. The play didn't cause much concern for Dilfer, who appeared to limp slightly after the hit.
"I asked the ref if the hit was low and late," Dilfer said. "He said he was pushed into me. I don't get caught up in that other stuff. If you do, you can lose your focus."
The Browns had bigger issues Sunday.
Their first drive stalled after two penalties, and then they had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown called back on Frisman Jackson's illegal block. The defense failed to stop the Colts over the final 7:40, when Indy drove to the Cleveland 6 before running out the clock.
It was pure frustration.
"I came in feeling we could score three or four touchdowns," Dilfer said. "I thought we were better than the first two teams they played. I thought our game plan was better. We just didn't make the big play, that's very discouraging."
Manning's supporting cast was the difference.
A 23-yard completion to Bryan Fletcher set up James' 2-yard TD run -- the Colts' first TD in the first half this season. Reggie Wayne's 51-yard catch-and-run set up one of Mike Vanderjagt's two field goals, and the Colts closed it out by grinding up more than
15 minutes on two second-half drives.
That was all the Colts needed.
"Our offense just is not quite on all cylinders. What our offense is doing is making clutch drives," Dungy said. "We are doing a lot of things we need to. I think we're going to be fine."
Cleveland's Phil Dawson made field goals from 40 and 22 yards, while Vanderjagt hit from 20 and 23 yards. ... Antonio Bryant caught seven passes for 75 yards. ... Dilfer and Manning combined to complete all 11 passes in the first quarter. ... Freeney produced his fourth game with three or more sacks. ... The Browns have played the eventual Super Bowl champion every year since 1999.