Manning threw three more touchdowns Sunday, Edgerrin James ran for two others and the Colts returned a blocked field goal for another score in another rout, 51-24, over Tennessee. Indianapolis became the third team in league history to score 40 or more points in four straight games, despite the Titans’ attempts at playing keepaway.
Tennessee tried three onside kicks in the first quarter, and then attempted a fake punt in the third quarter.
“It seemed like every time they scored, they tried an onside kick,” Colts receiver Brandon Stokley said. “You knew they were going to try some stuff, but three onside kicks in a row?”
It barely slowed the Colts (9-3), who won their fifth straight and are on pace to break the single-season scoring record Minnesota set in 1998 (556 points).
Tennessee (4-8), playing short-handed without Steve McNair, tried everything to halt the Colts. It only delayed the inevitable. The Titans allowed the most points by an opponent since a 52-25 thrashing by the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 29, 2002.
Manning threw for 317 yards and two TDs in the first half as Stokley and Marvin Harrison each topped the 100-yard mark. Manning finished 23-of-35 for 425 yards.
He moved within four TD passes of Dan Marino’s single-season record (48) and tied John Unitas’ 45-year-old record by throwing multiple TDs in a 12th straight game to open the season. Manning’s record of four straight games with four TDs ended at five.
His final numbers could have been even better but he was picked off once in the end zone, another time at the goal line—below a sign that read ‘Dan Who?’ — and tight end Marcus Pollard dropped what would have been another TD.
Stokley finished with eight catches for a career-high 153 yards, while Harrison caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. Reggie Wayne just missed joining the 100-yard club with six catches for 96 yards, and James ran 18 times for 105 yards.
That offensive power was the reason Titans coach Jeff Fisher tried so many tricks in the first half.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve seldom been in a no-win situation like this,” Titans tackle Jason Mathews said. “We’ll probably never do it again, but it was really fun in the first half.”
Instead, the Colts shredded yet another defense and moved closer to clinching the AFC South.
But this victory was atypical.
Manning & Co. were not their usually sharp selves early, and the Colts defense was burned for three long touchdown passes from backup quarterback Billy Volek to Drew Bennett in the first quarter. Bennett scored on passes of 48, 28 and 48 yards.
“I think this was kind of a wake-up call for us, that we have to be sharp every week,” Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy said.
The first quarter ended with Indianapolis leading 24-17, the second-most combined points for an opening quarter in league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was the most since Green Bay and Cleveland combined for 42 in November 1967.
After Volek matched the Colts’ offense punch-for-punch early, Manning had all the answers.
The Colts tied the score three times—on TD passes of 24 yards to Harrison and 28 yards to Stokley and a 4-yard run by James—before Indianapolis’ special teams turned the game.
Defensive tackle Montae Reagor blocked Gary Anderson’s 43-yard field goal attempt, and linebacker Rob Morris scooped it up and returned it 68 yards for the first TD of his career to make it 31-24 with 5:05 left in the half.
“I got some blocks and luckily it was all big, slow guys chasing me,” Morris said.
Tennessee never recovered as it was shut out for the final three quarters and Volek was sacked seven times and threw two interceptions.
The Colts opened the second half with a 20-yard field goal from Mike Vanderjagt, then James ran 12 yards to make it 41-24 and Manning finished his day with a 10-yard TD pass to Wayne early in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously we have been on a hot streak, and in the second half, we were pretty sharp,” Manning said. “The idea is always to be playing your best football in December and January.”
Volek finished 21-of-35 for 269 yards with three TDs and two interceptions, while Chris Brown ran 19 times for 104 yards. Bennett had three receptions for 124 yards.
The Colts returned a blocked field goal for a score for the first time since Oct. 26, 1997. … Manning and Harrison have now connected on 80 TDs in their career. That’s the second most in league history. San Francisco’s Steve Young and Jerry Rice had 85. … Linebacker Rocky Boiman did not play because of a hamstring injury that could keep him out for the rest of the season, Fisher said. … Brown aggravated his turf toe injury and left in the third quarter.