Sunday, Jan. 16 4:05pm ET
Titans rope Colts, get Jags again
That was just what the Titans wanted.
Just before the team came out to warm up, coach Jeff Fisher went over to George.
"I told him that when we traded down, then up, to get you in that draft, it was for games like this," Fisher said.
"It was kind of special," the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner said of his coach's comment.
George was kind of special, too, gaining 162 yards on 26 carries as Tennessee played the game at its pace, not the run-and-gun pace the Colts would have preferred.
And everyone contributed. The defense, even with star rookie Jevon Kearse producing little, held Peyton Manning and the prolific Indianapolis offense to just three field goals until Manning ran 15 yards for a touchdown with 1:51 left.
But that was too late -- Yancey Thigpen recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Titans ran out the clock.
George hoped to do well against an Indianapolis defense that allowed 4.2 yards per carry and was depleted by the absence of veteran linebacker Cornelius Bennett. Still, he carried just nine times for 38 yards in a first half that ended with the Colts ahead 9-6 on three field goals by Mike Vanderjagt to two by Al Del Greco.
But early in the second half, he took a handoff from Steve McNair, cut through a huge hole in the middle of the Indianapolis line created by a failed blitz, and outraced the secondary for the game's first touchdown. Del Greco later added two more field goals.
George was so clear, he even spent a little time watching TV during the run.
"I looked up at the video screen to see how close the pursuers were," said George, who was caught just as he reached the goal line. "I almost got caught looking."
The Titans, who needed a lateral that turned into a 75-yard kickoff return with three seconds left to beat Buffalo in a wild-card game last week, will play in the franchise's first conference title game in 20 years. Tennessee handed Jacksonville its only two losses this season, 20-19 in Jacksonville and 41-14 at Nashville three weeks ago.
The Tennessee defense, meanwhile, shut down an offense that averaged 26.4 points and was held to less than 20 points just three times during the regular season, once in a meaningless final game.
"The way the game was going, we had no choice but to shut them down," said Kearse, the Defensive Rookie of the Year, who himself was shut down -- he had only one assisted tackles and was credited with two passes defended.
On the other hand, the Offensive Rookie of the Year was also shut down -- the Colts' Edgerrin James, who grew up just 25 miles from Kearse in southwest Florida was held to just 56 yards on 20 carries and caught just one pass for eight yards.
And if Kearse rarely got close to Manning, the rest of the defensive line was helped by the double teams he drew. Although Manning wasn't sacked, Kenny Holmes and several other defenders were constantly in his face.
"I got close once, and we made eye contact," Kearse said of Manning, who was sacked just 14 times all season while Kearse had 14½. "I told him he could at least let me have one sack."
The Tennessee secondary, led by safety Blaine Bishop, also played well.
Manning, who completed 62.1 percent of his passes during the regular season, was under 50 percent Sunday, going 19-for-43 for 227 yards.
Then replay finally did in the Colts, who finished 13-4, but left coach Jim Mora winless in five playoff games, the first four with New Orleans.
Five minutes into the fourth quarter, with the Titans leading 16-9, the Colts' Terrence Wilkins broke a punt return and finally went out of bounds at the Tennessee 3.
"It was a good call," Mora said. "If he was out of bounds, he was out of bounds. Those are the rules."
Replay showed Wilkins stepped out of bounds. And while Tennessee had to burn a timeout to get its challenge heard over the din of the crowd at the RCA Dome, it paid off -- referee Johnny Grier viewed the replay and brought the ball back 63 yards to the Colts 33.
That did it.
The Colts went three-and-out, and Derrick Mason's 19-yard punt return to the Indianapolis 42 set up Del Greco's fourth field goal. On the next series, Kearse got into the act, tipping a pass attempt by Manning on third down.
And when the Colts finally scored, it was too late -- they were out of timeouts, and the onside kick didn't come close to working.
"We just came up short against a very good team," Mora said. "We had trouble making a play, particularly making big plays. It was a struggle all day, both sides of the ball."
But the Colts, who were 3-13 a year ago and whose 10-game improvement was the best in NFL history, seemed satisfied with their season.
"We had a heck of a season," Manning said. "We'll try to reload a little. I'm confident we can get right back here next season."
Titans (14-3) at Colts (13-3)
Jeff Fisher talks about the Titans' victory over the Colts.
wav: 66 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6
Peyton Manning was in need of a big play against the Titans.
wav: 129 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6