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Titans’ defense ‘perfect’ foe to upstage favorite Vol alum

Titans’ defense ‘perfect’ foe to upstage favorite Vol alum
NASHVILLE — Not even a Tennessee icon could upstage the unbeaten Titans.
Tennessee intercepted Peyton Manning twice and scored 25 unanswered points to remain the NFL’s only unbeaten team with a 31-21 victory over the Indianapolis Colts before a rowdy LP Field packed house and a Monday Night Football national television audience.
The win improved the Titans to 7-0 and gave Tennessee a commanding four-game lead in the AFC South Division that Indianapolis has won the last five seasons. It also marked the 10th consecutive regular season triumph over a span of two seasons for the Titans, matching the second-best streak in franchise history.
Chris Hope picked off Manning twice, the second time setting up Chris Johnson’s game-clinching 16-yard touchdown run with a little more than three minutes remaining and capping Tennessee’s surge after the Titans had trailed 14-6 early in the third period.
Tennessee’s defense — the stingiest in the league statistically — turned away the Colts twice on fourth-down plays to set up 10 fourth-quarter points.
And head coach Jeff Fisher, who joined NFL legends Don Shula and Tom Landry as the only coaches to start a season 7-0 in their 15th season or later, called the triumph “a great night for Nashville,” as the Titans won their sixth straight home game.
“I am just very excited to have played the way we played tonight,” Fisher said. “We hung in there. Our guys did a great job staying focused all week long.
“Our defense did a great job. They knew they had to be patient, and they were patient. We got some key stops, some key third-down stops. And of course, the fourth-down stops were huge momentum swings for us.”
Playing its first Monday Night Football home game since December of ’04, the Titans struggled some offensively, before leaning on veteran quarterback Kerry Collins to engineer a second-half surge that produced three touchdowns and a field goal.
Collins completed 24-of-37 passes for 193 yards and was not sacked in the contest. He had critical completions to Justin McCareins and Brandon Jones to set up the first of two one-yard TD runs by LenDale White, then followed that with a two-point conversion pass to fullback Ahmard Hall that tied the game at 14 with 3:21 left in the third quarter. Collins then threw to tight-end Alge Crumpler to set up Rob Bironas’ 48-yard field goal on the third play of the fourth period to give Tennessee the lead for good at 17-14.
And after a second-failed Indy fourth-down gamble at the Titan 34, Collins had critical hookups to tight end Bo Scaife and rookie wide-out Lavelle Hawkins to position Tennessee for White’s second one-yard scoring plunge with 4:37 to play that capped a 13-play, 66-yard drive that ate up nearly seven minutes of the fourth-quarter clock.
“Kerry managed the game very well and made some huge throws for us,” Fisher confirmed.
The Titans had to settle for a pair of first-half field goals of 34 and 44 yards from Bironas and trailed 7-6 at the half after Manning threw the first of two touchdown passes to Dallas Clark — an 11-yarder with 3:27 showing in the first quarter. Bironas missed his first kick of the season after 12 straight field goals and 17 PATs when he hooked a 43-yard field goal left in the second period.
Manning and Clark then hooked up again for a score as the Colts took the second-half kickoff and marched 64 yards in nine plays, that drive culminated by a 19-yard TD connection. Manning finished the night completing 26-of-41 for 223 yards.
After Tennessee tied the count at 14, the Titans’ defense stonewalled Indy at midfield when Steven Tulloch stuffed Dominic Rhodes on fourth-and-one, setting up Bironas’ third field goal. Nick Harper deflected away a Manning pass at the 34 to turn away the Colts on their next possession with less than 12 minutes to play.
“I can tell you it was game that we contributed with all three phases,” Fisher added.
Tennessee will have little time to relish its victory as it hosts Green Bay on Sunday.
GAME NOTES: The Titans’ offensive line did not allow Collins to be sacked for the fifth straight game. Collins has been sacked just once in 170 pass attempts during the entire season. …All-Pro defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch was among Tennessee’s inactives, missing the game with a groin injury. The Colts were missing defensive captain and star safety Bob Sanders, starting running back Joseph Addai and cornerback Kelvin Hayden due to various ailments. …Titan legends Steve McNair, Eddie George and Frank Wycheck were inducted into the team’s new Ring of Honor.

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