Instead of another patented comeback or impressive air show, Manning opened December by playing keepaway from Tennessee and leading the Colts to a 27-17 victory for their record-tying 21st consecutive regular-season win.
“You try to tell these guys that when you win a couple in a row, or three or four in a row, this is not normal,” the three-time MVP said. “It’s not normal to win 10 or 11 or 12 games every year. But these guys that have been here five years would tell me it is normal for us. That’s all they’ve done.”
For Indy (12-0), the milestones all seem commonplace.
Sunday’s list included:
— Matching New England’s record, set from 2006-08, with a chance to break it next week at home against Denver. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was on Bill Belichick’s staff during the Patriots’ record run.
— Extending their own NFL record of consecutive 12-win seasons to seven.
— Remaining undefeated, the first time in league history two teams—New Orleans is also 12-0—have been unbeaten this late in the season.
— And tying the 1990s San Francisco 49ers for most wins in a decade (113), a mark they could also break against Denver.
“It (the record) is one of those things we talk about. We kind of identify the milestones on Wednesday morning when we get in. We talk about some of the things we’re accomplishing,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “The guys appreciate it, but it’s not something that goes to their heads.”
Colts players celebrated with a nonchalant stroll toward midfield, then shaking hands and trotting into the locker room as though it was no different than the previous 20 wins.
But the script was different. This time, Manning took a page out of Tennessee’s playbook, relying an effective ground game and a ball-control offense to stymie the Titans’ comeback hopes.
Tennessee (5-7) was the last team to beat the Colts, on Oct. 27, 2008, and it wanted to bookend the streak.
While Chris Johnson ran for 100 yards in his seventh straight game, tying Earl Campbell’s franchise record, he finished with 113 yards and fell just short of a seventh straight 125-yard game, the Titans struggled in the red zone.
Twice in the second half, the Titans went for it on fourth down deep in Colts’ territory and failed both times. Tennessee also recovered an onside kick after scoring a late TD, then turned the ball over on downs.
“We just didn’t finish in the red zone,” quarterback Vince Young(notes) said. “Our guys made some big plays, but we just didn’t finish. Against a team like this, with an MVP quarterback, you have to score touchdowns.”
The Colts, however, took another approach.
Joseph Addai(notes) ran 21 times for a season-high 79 yards and two touchdowns. Manning was 24 of 37 for 270 yards and one TD, Pierre Garcon(notes) caught six passes for a career-high 136 yards and the combination of quick scores in the first half, and Manning’s ability to run clock in the second sealed Tennessee’s fate.
Manning hooked up with Garcon for 18 yards on the first play and got 15 more when Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Addai ran for 5 yards on the next play and Matt Stover(notes) made a 43-yard field goal to give Indy a 24-10 halftime lead.
That was all Manning needed.
The teams traded time-consuming drives in the third quarter and when Manning burned up nearly half of the fourth quarter with a drive that led to Stover’s 36-yard field goal with 3:14 to go, the Colts were back in the record book.
NOTES: Three Titans players were hurt during the game—safety Michael Griffin(notes) (shoulder), tight end Jared Cook(notes) (concussion) and fullback Ahmard Hall(notes) (ankle). … Colts WR Reggie Wayne(notes) caught four passes for 48 yards and now has 1,035 yards receiving. … Manning’s TD pass to Collie extended his NFL record streak of consecutive 25-TD seasons to 12.