INDIANAPOLIS -- The Colts aren't what they used to be, when they clinched their playoff spot a game or two before the season ended, but they still have Peyton Manning at quarterback and they still have Adam Vinatieri at kicker. And that was enough to beat the Titans on Sunday. And it was enough to get into the playoffs. And if it's enough to beat the Jets next week and to make a deep postseason run, well, don't say you weren't warned.
Because the Colts still have Peyton Manning.
And they still have Adam Vinatieri.
|Peyton Manning drops back Sunday for one of his 41 pass attempts vs. the Titans. (Getty Images)|
Maybe so. That's an argument for another day, but this is undisputed: The Colts defeated the Titans 23-20 because Manning was sensational and Vinatieri imperturbable. And for no other reason. Because there was no other reason for the Colts to defeat the Titans.
As it turns out, the Colts didn't need to beat the Titans. While the Colts were playing Tennessee, Jacksonville was losing to Houston. That game ended a few minutes before the Colts' game ended, giving Indianapolis the AFC South title, but several players on Indy's sideline said they weren't aware. Scores around the league flashed on a corner of the Lucas Oil Stadium scoreboard from time to time, but the crowd showed no interest in the Jags-Texans score, and neither did the players.
"We had no idea," running back Joseph Addai said. "I know I didn't have any idea, and nobody said a word to me."
Added Manning: "I didn't know."
As far as the Colts knew, they had to beat the Titans. But other than their quarterback and their kicker, they weren't getting it done. Indianapolis receivers dropped eight passes, including five by Pierre Garcon -- one in the end zone. Running back Dominic Rhodes dropped a fumble late in the fourth quarter after being hit by ... nobody. Colts punter Pat McAfee hit a series of lame ducks, averaging 38 yards on five punts and pinning none of them inside the Titans' 20.
Most egregious, the Colts defense made Tennessee's offense one-dimensional -- and nearly got beat by that flat attack. Indianapolis stacked the box and held Chris Johnson to 39 yards on 20 carries, meaning 38-year-old Titans quarterback Kerry Collins was going to have to beat them. And he damn near did.
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Collins threw for 300 yards, his highest total in five years. He threw two touchdowns. He had a 111.1 passer rating. He probably would have beaten the Colts, except for Peyton Manning and Adam Vinatieri.
Manning completed 27 of 41 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns, decent numbers that were dragged down by those eight drops. Imagine him going 35-for-41 for 300-something yards and three TDs. Those are sensational numbers. That was Manning on Sunday. He was sensational. He just didn't get as much help as he once did.
Which is why the score was tied 20-20 late in the fourth quarter.
Even with the drops mounting, Manning drove the Colts toward the winning points twice in the final two minutes. On the first drive, despite two more drops by Garcon, Manning had Indy across midfield when Rhodes fumbled with 1:34 left.
After Collins made his lone mistake of the game two plays later -- a big one; he fumbled the snap -- Manning drove the Colts again. First, Addai dropped a pass. After that, Manning sandwiched completions of 20 yards to Blair White and 11 yards to Jacob Tamme around a 6-yard run by Addai. That put the ball at the Titans' 25 with three seconds left.
Vinatieri jogged onto the field, and Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney started to let down. Overtime was possible, and Freeney knew it, but he couldn't help himself. This game was coming down to a kick by Vinatieri, which means this game was over.
"Clutch guy right there," Freeney said. "Didn't have a doubt in my mind."
After making kicks earlier in the game from 48 and 44 yards, Vinatieri buried the 43-yarder, his 26th field goal in 28 attempts this season. That's 92.9 percent. That leads the NFL -- and that's nothing. In his career, he's even better in the final minute. That 43-yarder he hit Sunday to beat the Titans? It was his 23rd career game-winning kick in the final minute of regulation or in overtime ... in 24 attempts. That's 95.8 percent.
Think about that, and then if you're a fan of the Jets next week -- or a fan of the Patriots or the Ravens or the Steelers down the road -- think of this: At some point, your team may have to beat Indianapolis to advance this postseason. And while the Colts aren't what they used to be, they still have Peyton Manning, and they still have Adam Vinatieri.
And your team doesn't.