Manning threw for 266 yards and survived a potentially disastrous interception in the closing moments, thanks to Freeney's game-clinching hit.
"He can be a difference-maker," Manning said. "That was the biggest play of the game."
Working against rookie tackle Wade Smith, Freeney had two other sacks and also forced a Griese fumble that led to a first-half field goal. He helped the Colts limit Ricky Williams to 36 yards rushing, allowing the Indy offense to control the ball for nearly 38 minutes.
"The biggest problem we had was with Freeney," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said. "That was probably the most dominant defensive performance we've seen in a long time. We couldn't handle him."
The Colts improved to 7-1, matching their best start since 1977. Only Kansas City (8-0) has a better record.
"It's a great achievement," Colts coach Tony Dungy. "One thing I like about this team is that we can win a lot of ways."
The Dolphins fell to 5-3, the same record they had at midseason in 2002, when they missed the playoffs. All of their defeats have been at home.
"Maybe we should cancel the rest of our home games," defensive end Jason Taylor said. "We're sitting in the middle of the pack, or maybe the back of the pack. That's not the situation you want to be in."
The Dolphins had beaten Indianapolis four times in a row, and Manning is just 3-8 against them. But the ball literally bounced the Colts' way for a change, with a fluke completion helping them take the lead for good.
"Anytime you get a win on the road against Miami, you have to feel great," Manning said.
Vanderjagt kicked field goals of 50, 44 and 25 yards. He's 21-for-21 this season and has made his past 25 attempts dating to last season.
James ran 26 times for 89 yards and a touchdown against a Miami defense hurt by uncharacteristically sloppy tackling. Manning went 23-for-37, including a 3-yard scoring pass to Troy Walters, and the Indy defense totaled five sacks.
Miami almost won anyway. With the help of two Colts turnovers, the Dolphins tried to rally from a 23-14 deficit in the final four minutes.
After Olindo Mare's 23-yard field goal trimmed the margin to six, Terrell Buckley intercepted Manning by stepping in front of a short pass intended for Reggie Wayne, giving the Dolphins the ball at the Colts 15 with 2:45 left.
Freeney and the Colts' defense dug in.
"Last year we'd get down, and we'd get crushed by that," Freeney said. "We would fall and fall. Today it seemed like those things were happening again. You have to make a play."
He did. On second down, Griese rolled right, was hit from behind by Freeney and fumbled. Raheem Brock recovered, and Indy ran out the clock.
"I'd like to have had a chance to see who came open," Griese said.
The Colts had a bit of luck on a pivotal play in the second quarter. A pass by Manning slipped through the hands of Marvin Harrison to teammate Marcus Pollard for a 51-yard gain, setting up the field goal at the end of the first half that put Indy ahead to stay.
"I can't exactly tell you it was a called play, but we'll take it," Manning said.
Harrison also dropped a pass that would have given the Colts a first down in the third period, and he lost a fumble in the final quarter.
But he was sure-handed on a flea-flicker, curling back to catch an underthrown pass by Manning for a 30-yard gain. That led to a 1-yard touchdown run by James to put the Colts ahead 16-7.
- Fiedler was designated the No. 3 quarterback for the second week in a row.
- Dontrelle Willis and Juan Pierre of the World Series champion Florida Marlins took part in the pregame coin toss.
- James surpassed Marshall Faulk as the Colts' second-leading career rusher and has 5,369 yards. Lydell Mitchell holds the record with 5,487.
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2003, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved