NFL Playoffs

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  Sunday, Jan. 16 4:05pm ET
Titans rope Colts, get Jags again

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The Tennessee Titans didn't need another miracle. They just needed Eddie George, their defense and some help from instant replay.

Eddie George/Kevin Dyson
Kevin Dyson, left, congratulates Eddie George after a 68-yard TD run in the third quarter.
George scored on a 68-yard run on the third play of the second half Sunday to lead the Titans to a 19-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts and a trip to Jacksonville for the AFC title game.

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.

Why the Titans won:
1. By George, they did it. In a game dominated by both defenses, Eddie George was the breakout offensive performer. The Titans' workhorse carried 26 times for 162 yards, including his 68-yard TD run that put Tennessee ahead to stay early in the third quarter.

2. Not biting today. Titans safety Blaine Bishop said he worked all week on not biting on the Colts' play-action fakes. Well, Bishop's work paid off as Peyton Manning was unable to use his patented play fakes for a big pass play over the top. Bishop, a hard-hitting strong safety, went all over the field to break up passes.

3. Feeling the heat. Although the Titans didn't sack Manning, they pressured him all day and never let him get comfortable in the pocket.

Why the Colts lost:
1. Dropping the ball. The Colts didn't make the plays that they'd been making all season. Marvin Harrison dropped what would have been a first-down reception on third-and-22 with 8:11 left, and Edgerrin James had a pass go through his arms on a fourth-and-4 play with 3:34 remaining. Those two plays could have turned a tight game in Indy's favor.

2. The James Gang doesn't ride. James, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, was fairly silent in his first career playoff game. He was held to just 56 rushing yards on 20 carries. More importatly, James wasn't much of a threat as a receiver out of the backfeild, grabbing just one pass for eight yards. The Titans' pressure forced the Colts to keep James in as a blocker, limiting his effectiveness as a release valve.

3. No big plays. Indianapolis failed to get that one big play that could have produced a touchdown. Manning was held to 227 passing yards, Harrison had only 65 receiving yards, and Terrence Wilkins couldn't stay inbounds on his long punt return.

Game ball goes to:
George. Titans coach Jeff Fisher told the former Heisman winner that Tennessee drafted him for games like this. Indeed, the Titans wouldn't have won without their bruising tailback.

Up next:
The Titans will travel to Jacksonville for the AFC Championship Game next Sunday at 12:35 p.m. ET. Tennessee swept the season series, winning 20-19 in Jacksonville on Sept. 26 and 41-14 in Nashville on Dec. 26.

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."

Game notes
George rushed for only 38 yards in the first half, but his 68-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the third quarter made him the first player in Titans franchise history with consecutive playoff games of at least 100 yards. ... Tennessee held Indianapolis to six yards rushing and 51 yards passing in the third quarter, when the Titans took the lead. ... The Titans had 54 sacks in the regular season, third-best in the NFL, and six in a wild-card victory over Buffalo, but did not get to Manning, the league's best-protected quarterback. ... The only turnover was on a fumble by George with a little more than three minutes remaining, setting up the Colts' only touchdown on a 15-yard run by Manning. ... The game was the first at home in the postseason for the Colts since the then-Baltimore Colts lost in two overtimes to Oakland in 1977. ... Among four honorary captains introduced before the game was former coach Ted Marchibroda, now a member of the Colts' broadcast crew. ... Jim Mora coached his 204th game, but remained winless in five playoff appearances. ... The Titans had not won a divisional playoff game since 1979 against San Diego. ... Colts receiver E.G. Green was taken off the field on a stretcher and examined for a possible broken leg. His 33-yard reception on the play set up the second of three first-half field goals by Mike Vanderjagt. The only other injuries were mild ankle sprains by the Colts' Ken Dilger and Ratcliff Thomas and a thigh bruise by the Titans' Blaine Bishop. ... Manning, who earlier had a streak of 27 games with at least one touchdown pass, finished without a TD throw for the third consecutive game.


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 Jeff Fisher talks about the Titans' victory over the Colts.
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 Peyton Manning was in need of a big play against the Titans.
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