Keith Bulluck returned a fumble 61 yards for one touchdown, and Peter Sirmon's interception led to a second TD as the Titans moved into a first-place tie in the AFC South with a 23-15 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
|Peter Sirmon celebrates his interception that sets up the Titans' lone offensive TD.(AP)|
The Titans (4-4) forced the issue Sunday, and even though their offense managed just 198 yards, the defense made sure it was more than enough to give the team its third straight victory.
Indianapolis (4-4) lost its third consecutive. The Colts struggled early again and fell behind 20-0 for the second consecutive game because of three first half turnovers that the Titans turned into 17 points.
For the Colts, it was an all-too-familiar storyline.
"Today's game was very similar to the last two weeks, where we just get the big deficits and dig ourselves a hole and don't have enough to fight back," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "It's disappointing."
Part of the problem was that the Colts again failed to establish their running game. They were playing without two-time NFL rushing champ Edgerrin James and his backup, Ricky Williams, who was a late scratch after being expected to start. Both were inactive because of hamstring injuries, and the Titans took advantage of their absence.
While the Colts produced 378 yards in offense and James Mungro ran 16 times for 60 yards, Indianapolis didn't score until the game's final 13 minutes. By then they'd fallen behind 23-0.
Making matters worse was a crowd that turned on the Colts during another abysmal first half.
Titans fans chanted "Ed-die, Ed-die" for George, and Colts fans booed quarterback Peyton Manning and the struggling offense throughout the half. At halftime, following a missed 46-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt -- the NFL's most accurate kicker -- the boos grew louder. By early in the fourth quarter, Colts fans were leaving.
George rushed 22 times for 95 yards, while McNair was 14-of-19 for 82 yards and one touchdown -- but it was good enough.
"We established something we wanted to establish," McNair said. "We wanted to eliminate mistakes and methodically move down the field and we did."
The Colts fumbled four times in the game's first 20 minutes, including once on Tank Williams' blindside hit of Manning. Bulluck scooped up the loose ball and ran 61 yards for the touchdown to make it 17-0 early in the second quarter.
"I thought 'Oh man, look at all that open field,"' Bulluck said. "I just scooped it up, and that's what it was."
Manning, who finished 37-of-50 for 327 yards and two touchdowns, also threw one interception. Sirmon returned that 31 yards to the Colts 25, and five plays later, McNair threw a 3-yard TD pass to Mike Green.
Indianapolis avoided its first shutout since December 1993 when Manning hooked up with Mike Roberg with 12:17 to go. Manning then found Marvin Harrison for the 2-point conversion to make it 23-8.
Manning and Harrison connected on a 19-yard TD pass with 1:57 left to cut it to 23-15. Harrison finished with 11 catches for 99 yards.
Joe Nedney connected field goals of 28, 34 and 39 yards, and the Tennessee defense took care of the rest.
"When the receivers caught the ball, they paid. When the running backs ran the ball, they paid. We just kept hitting them," Bulluck said. "If they get 1,000 yards and we win the game, we don't care."
- Colts running back Jim Finn started in place of James and Williams, and Finn fumbled on his first two receptions of the game.
- McNair tied Warren Moon's franchise record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 21st consecutive game.
- Nedney made three field goals for the third consecutive week.
- Titans safety Lance Schulters separated his left shoulder late in the third quarter and is questionable for next week's game against Houston.
The Associated Press News Service
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