NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (TICKER) —Peyton Manning returns to Tennessee this weekend, but reminiscing about his college days is not on the agenda.
A state hero after shattering all of the passing records at the University of Tennessee, Manning is shooting for the second division title of his five-year NFL career. A win Sunday would give the Colts a two-game lead over Tennessee with just four remaining.
However, a win by the Titans puts them in the driver’s seat since they would own the tiebreaker by virtue of sweeping the season series.
When Manning led the Colts to the AFC East title with a 13-3 record in 1999, it was the Titans - led by coach Jeff Fisher, quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George - who beat him in the divisional playoff en route to Super Bowl XXXIV.
In the first meeting between the new division rivals last month at Indianapolis, the Titans blanked Manning and the Colts for three quarters and posted a 23-15 victory. Keith Bulluck returned a fumble 61 yards for a touchdown and fellow linebacker Peter Sirmon intercepted a pass by Manning and returned it 31 yards to set up a field goal by Joe Nedney.
“I remember their defense playing very, very well,” said Colts coach Tony Dungy of the first meeting. “With Jeff Fisher as the coach, you know they’re going to be aggressive and they created some turnovers.”
Fisher’s style is also a smashmouth attack on offense and George produced 95 yards on 22 carries against a much-improved Colts defense under Dungy. McNair attempted just 19 passes, completing 14 for only 82 yards and a touchdown.
The Colts had 378 yards in total offense, but scored their first points in the fourth quarter after Tennessee had already built a 23-0 lead. Manning hit Mike Roberg with a two-yard touchdown with 12:17 left and connected with Marvin Harrison on the two-point conversion. Harrison caught a 19-yard scoring pass with 1:57 remaining. The touchdown capped an 11-catch, 99-yard day for Harrison, who again will probably be shadowed by Titans star cornerback Samari Rolle on Sunday.
The only player in NFL history with four straight 100-catch seasons, Harrison is closing in on Herman Moore’s single-season record of 123 receptions in 1995. Harrison has 109 catches for 1,318 yards.
Since that loss to the Titans on November 3, Indianapolis has won four straight and is tied with Oakland for the best record in the conference.
After an emotional overtime win at Denver on November 24, the Colts rode their defense to a 19-3 win over the expansion Houston Texans last week. Indianapolis recorded six sacks, including three by defensive end Brad Scioli, and held the Texans to 10 first downs and 165 total yards.
Indianapolis also did not achieve much offensively, totaling 13 first downs. Manning threw for only 190 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown to tight end Marcus Pollard, and Edgerrin James was held to 65 yards on 20 carries. James did not play in last month’s loss to Tennessee due to a strained hamstring.
McNair harkened back to his “Air McNair” days at McNeese State in leading the Titans to a come-from-behind 32-29 overtime victory over the New York Giants last week.
Listed as questionable with rib, shin and toe injuries, McNair threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns, including a nine-yard scoring pass to tight end Frank Wycheck with nine seconds left. After that pulled Tennessee within 29-27, McNair scored the game-tying two-point conversion on a quarterback draw. In overtime, McNair directed a seven-play, 60-yard drive to set up Nedney’s winning 38-yard field goal.
“He doesn’t get nearly enough credit from the national media,” Fisher said of McNair, who completed 30-of-43 passes and also rushed four times for 38 yards.
Derrick Mason caught 12 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Giants and leads the Titans with 61 catches for 783 yards.
Tennessee leads the series, 9-7.