Peyton out to cure ills vs. Titans
Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010 6:34 am
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Trying to snap out of the funk he’s been in for three games, Peyton Manning is heading to a town to play a team that could help him do just that.
Tennessee is struggling even more than the four-time MVP, going 10 quarters without an interception and 13 without scoring an offensive touchdown. The Titans (5-7) have lost five straight, and now here comes Manning, who routinely puts up some of his best performances against them.
The banged-up Colts (6-6) have lost three straight themselves, and Manning says there’s a sense of urgency for both teams going into Thursday night’s game. The AFC South has only been won by these two teams, yet Jacksonville leads Indianapolis by a game and Tennessee by two.
“I think it’s about how you respond to it,” Manning said. “I know both teams are coming off of disappointing losses. I think that sometimes a short week might be the best medicine for that. I know both teams are looking forward to playing.”
Manning isn’t happy with his career-worst 11 interceptions over the past three games, four returned for touchdowns. But he’s still a top passer, and his next TD pass will make him the first in NFL history to throw 25 touchdown passes in 13 straight seasons.
The Titans struggled to slow Manning’s brother Eli, Kyle Orton of Denver and Tony Romo in Dallas, and that was when they were winning. Now they’re struggling to even run the ball, with Chris Johnson having only 20 carries for 58 yards over the past two games, including last week’s 17-6 loss to Jacksonville.
They expect Manning at his sharpest despite the four interceptions in each of the past two losses, including Indianapolis’ 38-35 overtime defeat to Dallas on Sunday.
“The concern is that eventually that stops,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “That’s the concern. With tipped balls and things like that he’s got somebody in his face, he doesn’t see the underneath drop defender and the guy picks the ball off. Those are things that happen to all quarterbacks.”
Still, the Titans agree it’s very strange to see so many of Manning’s passes wind up in defenders’ hands. The Colts have won three straight against Tennessee, and Manning is 11-5 against the Titans with just 13 interceptions in those games.
“He may be pressing, trying,” Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “He loves throwing touchdowns. He’s got a lot of guys in his face, too. That’s why he has some errant throws.”
Manning will be getting someone he knows well in a backfield missing Joseph Addai after the Colts signed Dominic Rhodes. That should help considering the defense lost starting cornerback Jerraud Powers to injured reserve Tuesday.
Finnegan is the guy who aggravated Texans receiver Andre Johnson so much while defending him throughout their game that Johnson punched him three times in the head in the fourth quarter. The Titans are likely to put Finnegan on Colts receiver Reggie Wayne throughout this game, especially because Wayne had 14 catches for 200 yards last week.
“It’s going to be a chance for me to make some plays, and it’s going to be a good thing,” Finnegan said.
Manning will have plenty of chances to target Titans rookie cornerback Alterraun Verner, who thinks he was 10 the year Manning entered the NFL.
“I’m definitely not scared,” said Verner, who has two interceptions. “That just means more opportunity for me. I’m 100 percent sure he’s going to come after me.”
The Titans are almost happy to see Manning after giving up 258 yards rushing to Jacksonville. Staying on the field offensively and scoring are the Titans’ top priorities. They rank last in the NFL in time of possession, and this will be the first time since mid-October the same quarterback has started consecutive games for Tennessee, with Kerry Collins behind center.
Tight end Bo Scaife, who heard the ball thudding off his chest for two days after dropping a touchdown pass against the Jaguars, said the best fix to energize the Titans will be letting Johnson run wild against a defense giving up 142.8 yards rushing per game.
“He’s our engine. When we get him going, it seems like everyone can breathe a little easier,” Scaife said.
Indianapolis and Tennessee still could win the division by winning out.
“That is a good thing when you are looking at the silver lining,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “That is a good thing at this point in time, but we have to do something about it.”
The Titans have been booed heavily by their home fans in each of their last two games, both losses. Empty seats are expected in a sold-out stadium. The Titans insist they want to give the fans something to cheer and improve on a home record that’s just 2-4.
“It’s kind of awkward to be 5-7 but still have an opportunity if things play out right, to still have an opportunity to go to the playoffs,” Titans safety Michael Griffin said. “Right now I think our backs are against the wall, and this is a must win this week. If not, the season is pretty much over.”