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Colts get control in South

Associated Press
Published December 8, 2003

NASHVILLE - Becoming road kings might have helped the Colts find their way home - at least once - for the playoffs.

Edgerrin James ran for two touchdowns and Mike Vanderjagt kicked five field goals Sunday as Indianapolis beat Tennessee 29-27 to sweep the defending division champion Titans, taking control of the AFC South with three games left.

The Colts improved to 6-1 on the road, putting them on track for their first division title since winning the East in 1999, and the chance to host at least a wild-card game.

They did it by scoring 19 consecutive points and forcing four fumbles, which they turned into nine points. They also held the ball for nearly 34 minutes.

"We had to win this game to have control of the division," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "Now we do. Now we don't have to rely on any help from anyone else. If we win our games, we'll be in good shape."

In a matchup of would-be MVP quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Steve McNair, Manning easily played better, even scrambling for a couple of first downs. He ran for 20 yards and was 22-of-34 for 228 yards in setting a club record with his 93rd consecutive start.

"I'd like to think I've got enough toughness to play the position," Manning said.

McNair sprained his left ankle in the second quarter and aggravated his already sore right calf, but he nearly rallied the Titans to a tie. He threw two touchdowns in the final 9:24 and ran for a two-point conversion.

McNair pulled the Titans within 29-27 with 1:52 to go with a 2-yard score to Derrick Mason. McNair tried to find Mason again on the conversion but defensive end Dwight Freeney, held to one sack, tipped the ball, and it fell incomplete.

The Colts punted with 50 seconds left, but Justin McCareins fumbled after an 11-yard return, and Anthony Floyd recovered for the Colts.

McNair finished 22-of-38 for 235 yards.

"We control our own destiny as far as our playoff future, but the division title is out of our hands right now," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.

The Colts had a nearly 15-minute stretch in which they ran 34 straight offensive plays. Eddie Berlin, returning kicks for the first time this season, fumbled twice. Vanderjagt kicked field goals after each, including a 23-yarder for a 12-10 lead just before halftime.

Indianapolis held the ball nearly eight minutes longer than the Titans for the game.

"You're never comfortable when Steve is on the other side," Dungy said. "I thought he played great. We were fortunate in that we were able to keep the ball away from him a lot."

The Titans, who had won 10 consecutive home games, were kept out of Colts territory from the end of the first quarter until late in the third because of three fumbles.

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