No comeback this time: Colts hold off Titans' rally
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans ran out of magic. Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison couldn't ice the victory. Adam Vinatieri struggled kicking the ball.
So of course, the Indianapolis Colts' defense -- yes, the one that let the Titans come back to win in December -- made the plays that mattered most.
Peyton Manning threw for 312 yards and a touchdown, and the Colts held off Tennessee for a 22-20 victory Sunday when their defense stopped Young on a final-drive comeback.
The Indianapolis defense came up big in the end vs. the Tennessee Titans. With starting linebackers Freddie Keiaho and Rob Morris out, safety Bob Sanders stole the show for the Colts defense.
Every week Sanders is going to show up, but defensive coordinator Ron Meeks put Sanders in position to make plays all day. In addition to their usual Cover 2, the Colts also played some Cover 3 when bringing Sanders on the blitz.
Sanders finished the game with 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Sanders played close to the line of scrimmage and as a "spy" at times, he limited Titans QB Vince Young's ability to make a lot of big plays with his feet.
The Colts are still primarily a Cover 2 team, but it was their ability to be creative on the defensive side of the ball that was the difference in this game.
"Our defense saved the day, and that's what good teams do," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "They find a way to win."
This time, the Titans (1-1) trailed by 13 points instead of 14.
"Anytime the ball's in Vince Young's hands, everyone feels like we're going to win the game," Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "We were just waiting for something magical to happen."
But unlike last December, when Rob Bironas capped a similar comeback with a 60-yard field goal, the Colts collapsed around Young on fourth-and-4. That forced him to lob the ball away in the final seconds.
Peyton Manning kneeled down to run out the clock as defending champion Indianapolis (2-0) reminded Tennessee which team remains atop the AFC South.
"The defense came up big," Peyton Manning said.
Vinatieri had one of his worst days in years despite making field goals of 22, 39 and 20 yards.
He had an extra point blocked and a field goal partially blocked that bounced off the crossbar before going over. He also missed a 36-yarder to the left after the Colts recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.
"There were some things out there I've never seen before," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "I've never seen a ball tipped, and then hit the cross bar and go in. That's the good fortune of the world champs."
The Colts had every reason for a letdown in their first road game after unveiling their title banner before the opening 41-10 rout of New Orleans. And they played without starting linebackers Freddy Keiaho (right elbow) and Rob Morris (ribs).
Indianapolis allowed Tennessee 313 yards, including 141 yards rushing. That was well below the 282 yards the Titans had in their opener.
The Colts nearly blew a 16-6 halftime lead. Vinatieri struggled and the Titans picked off Peyton Manning and sacked him twice in the second half.
Terrorizing The Titans
The Colts have had a great run against AFC South foe Tennessee recently, winning eight of their last nine with Sunday's 22-20 victory. Not surprisingly, Peyton Manning has had a big influence in his career vs. the Titans.
Indianapolis twice had the ball at the Tennessee 8 and had to settle for field goals. They even came up with a fumble when linebacker Tyjuan Hagler, starting in place of Keiaho, recovered at the beginning of the fourth period.
But Tennessee, which gave up more yards than any other NFL defense in 2006, had to settle for two field goals before LenDale White scored his first pro TD in the third.
The Titans held the Colts to a three-and-out after the turnover. But Vinatieri, the kicker signed last year for his accuracy in the clutch, missed a 36-yarder.
"We won, and that's the only thing that's really, really important," Vinatieri said.
Young, who stopped a drive himself with a taunting penalty just before halftime, drove the Titans 74 yards and pulled them within 22-20 with a 2-yard pass to Roydell Williams with 6:02 left.
Peyton Manning had his own chance to seal the victory. But Titans cornerback Nick Harper, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Colts in February, leaped up and tipped away a pass intended for Harrison at the goal line. Then Vanden Bosch sacked Peyton Manning on third down, forcing the punt.
"We were trying to get a touchdown and put the game out of reach," Peyton Manning said. "We didn't do as good a job as we wanted of running the clock."
Young, who looked so poised in becoming the first rookie quarterback to lead two comebacks of 14 points or more in 2006, finally showed his youth.
He stopped a drive just before halftime when flagged for taunting after running out of bounds, and Peyton Manning drove the Colts to a field goal after getting the ball back.
The Titans had 98 seconds left and needed a field goal to win and improve to 2-0 for the first time since 1999. Young was sacked on the first play. He overthrew Brandon Jones on third down, then the Colts collapsed around Young on fourth down and he fumbled.
Left guard Jacob Bell grabbed the ball for the Titans, but that was it.
"We fought hard. We played well. We just didn't finish it," Young said.
Vinatieri came into the game having connected on 409 of 416 extra points. He hadn't missed on an extra point since 2005 while with New England when he went 40-of-41 that season. ... Peyton Manning passed both Boomer Esiason and Dave Krieg into 11th on the NFL's all-time yardage list. ... Harrison passed Cris Carter for fourth on the career yards receiving list. He came in needing 123 yards to pass James Lofton for third, but Harrison had 87 yards. ... The Colts now have won 36 of their last 43 and haven't lost in September since the 2004 opener. ... This was Fisher's 200th regular season game, and his record now is 106-94.
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