Manning throws for 319, Colts beat Titans 30-28
Cortland Finnegan watched as the perfect pass from a quarterback who lately had seemed so imperfect fell softly into Reggie Wayne's hands, and all the Titans' cornerback could do was smile and shake his head.
He had Wayne step for step as they sprinted down the field and just knew he was going to bat away Peyton Manning's pass early in the third quarter of the Indianapolis Colts' 30-28 win over Tennessee on Thursday night. Yet he was helpless as Wayne pulled in the 46-yard catch.
''He's pretty dang good by the way,'' Finnegan said.
Perhaps people forgot that fact as Manning waded through the worst stretch of his career, throwing 11 interceptions during a three-game losing streak with four of them returned for touchdowns. But with a few assists from the mistake-prone Titans, Manning reversed his slide and finished with 319 yards, two touchdowns and - most importantly - no interceptions in a nearly mistake-free performance. The four-time MVP completed 71 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 118.6 as he tied Dan Marino atop the career list with his 63rd 300-yard game.
For the most part, Manning seemed bemused by all the hubbub over his problems. There have been plenty of critics, but Manning says he doesn't listen to the chatter.
''I don't want to offend anybody, but I don't read your column or anybody. I really don't,'' he said. ''I think people like delivering bad news. I really don't read it but people tell me. They come up and say, 'Did you see what he wrote?' I went, 'Actually I didn't, but thank you for letting me know.'''
Manning was so dominant the best defensive play of the day didn't come from a player wearing a Titans uniform.
Back in the state where he starred at the University of Tennessee, Manning nearly had a third touchdown pass but rookie receiver Blair White tipped away a pass intended for Reggie Wayne in the end zone.
''I was throwing to Reggie. I can assure you I was throwing to Reggie,'' Manning said. ''But like I said, that's part of the learning process.''
The Colts (7-6) haven't lost four straight since 2001 when their five-game slide prompted Jim Mora's famous ''Playoffs? Playoffs?'' rant that's become a beer commercial staple. Now the only NFL team to reach the postseason in 10 of the last 11 seasons is back on track and will defend its AFC South title if it wins out with a key game against division-leading Jacksonville next week.
''This reminds me of high school,'' Manning said. ''You have to win one each game to advance. It's kind of a playoff game approach and our backs were against the wall.''
Tennessee (5-8) has lost six straight to drop 2 1/2 games behind Jacksonville in the division with three to play. The Titans can blame themselves for mistakes that led to each of the Colts' first three touchdowns, including two defensive penalties on third-and-goal and a high snap over the punter's head.
The Titans did break out of their scoring slump, ending a 14-quarter, 34-series drought without an offensive touchdown when Chris Johnson finished off a 55-yard drive with a 1-yard run with 49 seconds left in the first half. Johnson finished with 111 yards rushing.
Tennessee closed to 27-21 when Kerry Collins tossed his second TD pass of the night, a 4-yarder to Bo Scaife with 7:59 left in the game. The defense forced the Colts to go three-and-out, and the momentum seemed to swing to the Titans for the first time.
But Tennessee couldn't pick up a first down, and fans booed when Fisher sent out the punting unit on fourth-and-1.
Manning made the Titans pay with a slant to Pierre Garcon, who shook off Jason McCourty and Chris Hope while safety Michael Griffin whiffed as the receiver slipped up the right sideline for a 43-yard play. Adam Vinatieri ended the drive with his third field goal, a 47-yarder that made it 30-21 with 2:55 left.
Collins drove the team down for a late touchdown and finished with 244 yards passing and three TDs, giving him 200 for his career. But it came too late and left the Titans with a feeling they've grown used to while playing Manning and the Colts, who haven't lost to the Titans since 2008.
''Every time we play the Colts, it's been the same thing,'' Hope said. ''By the time we figure out we can play with them and compete with them, we run out of time. It's been the same story the last few times we've played them.''
NOTES: Johnson's 37-yard run in the fourth quarter was his longest run since Oct. 10 against Dallas. Johnson also had a season-high eight catches for 68 yards. ... Kenny Britt returned to the starting lineup and played much of the game, leaving Randy Moss with no real role in the game. Moss was not targeted by Collins in the game. Moss has caught five passes for 62 yards in five games with the Titans. ... The Colts finished with just five healthy offensive lineman after injuries to LT Charlie Johnson (shoulder) and G Jamey Richards (hip). They didn't play in the second half.