NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Peyton Manning had plenty of help from the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Steve McNair didn’t get the same treatment from his Tennessee Titans in the first game between the NFL’s co-MVP quarterbacks.
Manning threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns, and Nick Harper intercepted McNair’s pass in the end zone in helping Indianapolis rally for a 31-17 victory over Tennessee.
Edgerrin James also ran for two touchdowns and 124 yards as the Colts (1-1) avoided losing consecutive games in the regular season for the first time since the middle of the 2002 season—now a span of 26 games.
“Anytime you win down here, it’s a good win,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said.
The Colts outscored Tennessee 28-7 in the second half, forced two turnovers and sacked McNair three times in winning their third straight game in this series.
The Titans had plenty of chances to bury the Colts in a deep hole before a record crowd of 68,932 in this early AFC South showdown between the only teams to win this division since realignment.
“We never talked about 0-2,” Manning said. “Tony never said, `We can’t be 0-2.’ It never came up. We just said it’s an AFC South game. It’s a double-dipper. We have a chance to get up in the division and give the Titans a loss.”
The Colts did just that because Tennessee couldn’t finish what it started despite controlling the clock for nearly 35 minutes.
The Titans turned the ball over once on downs at the Indy 4, settled for a field goal on another deep drive into Indianapolis territory after two dropped passes in the end zone.
“We let this thing slip away in the second half,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was frustrating. Players didn’t make plays.”
The low point came when Harper took the ball away from Pro Bowl receiver Derrick Mason in the end zone to end another possession in the fourth quarter. Mason said he was at fault for relaxing.
Harper had a different view.
“I just saw it, and I took it out of his hands,” Harper said.
Manning took advantage of the turnover by leading the Colts 80 yards in 11 plays, and James finished it with a 4-yard run for a 24-17 lead that was Indianapolis’ first in the game.
McNair then couldn’t get the Titans past midfield.
Knowing they would need to outscore Manning and the Colts, Fisher tried to pull a trick with punter Craig Hentrich throwing to Troy Fleming on fourth down only to be stopped for 4 yards when he needed 10.
The Titans finished 0-for-3 on fourth downs.
“We had a chance to really put this game away early,” McNair said. “We didn’t. Any time we have another team like Indianapolis stay in it with Peyton at the helm, you’re asking to get beat.”
James, who had only 24 yards in the first half, wound up the scoring with his 30-yard TD run with 2:29 to go.
McNair’s final drive ended when he was sacked and fumbled in the last minute. He had two of his top four receivers deactivated because of injuries and was working behind a line featuring rookie Jacob Bell at left guard and backup Jason Mathews at left tackle in the fourth quarter.
He finished 25-of-39 for 273 yards and ran for a TD.
Manning had only 84 yards passing in the first half as Tennessee wanted to keep him off the field as much as possible. The plan worked almost to perfection in the first half.
Tennessee held the ball for nearly 21 minutes, with Chris Brown running for 104 yards on 19 carries by halftime. Brown finished with 152 yards on 26 carries and a TD.
The defense forced the Colts to go three-and-out on two straight possessions after Mike Vanderjagt capped an opening 12-play drive with a 28-yard field goal.
Manning didn’t complete four consecutive passes until just before halftime, but then Titans tackle Albert Haynesworth poked the ball out of Marvin Harrison’s arms and Samari Rolle recovered the fumble for Tennessee.
Reggie Wayne helped Manning get into rhythm in the second half, and he finished 24-of-33 passing. Wayne caught seven passes for 119 yards.
“We decided to come out and throw a little bit,” Manning said.
Vanderjagt tied Dean Biasucci’s franchise record with his 28-yard field goal in the first quarter, giving him 175 with the Colts. … Brown became only the third back in franchise history to run for 100 or more yards in each of his first two starts. Earl Campbell did it in 1978, and Gary Brown in 1993. … The Colts now are 14-6 when DE Dwight Freeney has a sack.