Tennessee 23, Indianapolis 15

Nov. 3, 2002 at 8:48 PM   |   0 comments

INDIANAPOLIS, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Sparked by a defense that set the early tone and the running of Eddie George, the Tennessee Titans tied Indianapolis for first place in the AFC South Division Sunday with a 23-15 victory over the Colts.

Just under a month ago, the Titans were mired in a four-game losing streak with club owner Bud Adams openly questioning the tactics of Coach Jeff Fisher.

But the Titans (4-4) have completely turned things around, winning three straight games to tie the reeling Colts (4-4) for the divisional lead.

The Titans' defense which was at the heart of their struggles during the losing streak came up big on Sunday, forcing two fumbles and coming up with an interception on the Colts' first three possessions.

"We talked all week about the Colts being a turnover type team," Fisher said. "When they get turnovers on defense, they have won. When they turn it over on offense, they have not been able to overcome them and that's what happened today. That was the theme all week in practice."

Linebacker Keith Bulluck came up with one of the turnovers, returning a fumble by Peyton Manning 61 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter to give Tennessee a 17-0 lead.

The Titans pounded George at the Colts to the tune of 22 times for 95 yards.

"We came in here and got the job done today," George said. "We had to control the ball to keep Peyton off the field. They have a great offense, but you can't be a great offense if you're standing on the sideline."

Titans quarterback Steve McNair was not called on to do much and completed 14 of 19 passes for 82 yards, including a three-yard touchdown pass to fullback Mike Green in the first quarter.

With the game out of reach, Manning threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter for the Colts, who suffered their third straight loss. Manning finished 37 of 50 for 326 yards and an interception.

"Obviously you want to protect the ball," Manning said. "They made some plays on defense and created some turnovers. And we didn't make enough plays on offense to overcome it. It's kind of a mind-set to do whatever you can do to protect the ball."

The Colts were without star running back Edgerrin James, who missed the game with a partially torn hamstring, and his absence was felt early.

On the Colts' second possession, Manning dumped a pass to fullback Jim Finn, who ran 12 yards into Tennessee territory. But he fumbled and safety Tank Williams recovered for the Titans at the 44.

Finn spent the majority of the playing time blocking for James Mungro, who carried 16 times for 60 yards.

Tennessee converted the early miscue into points, going 34 yards in nine plays. Nedney capped the march with a 28-yard field goal.

Manning committed his own blunder on the ensuing possession. On third and seven from the Titans' 49, Manning had his pass intended for Marvin Harrison intercepted by linebacker Peter Sirmon, who returned the ball 31 yards to the Indianapolis 25.

After reaching the three, the Titans were presented with a third and two. McNair used a play-fake and found Green wide open in the right flat for a two-yard touchdown, making it 10-0.

"I think they were expecting us to hit them up with a run, but I slipped through," Green said. "The linebacker Rob Morris said, `You're not going to get me on that play again.' He was expecting a run, and I was wide open in the end zone. I like them when they're easy like that."

Mungro had six carries for 35 yards on the Colts' next possession. But on second and six from the Tennessee 21, Tank Williams came on a blitz around the right side and drilled Manning while jarring the ball loose. Bulluck picked it up and ran 61 yards to the end zone, extending the lead to 17-0 with 10:17 left before halftime.

Bulluck high-stepped his way into the end zone, drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty.

"We don't get to do that very often and you probably won't see that from me again," Bulluck said. "I'm not usually that type of player, I was just caught up in the moment. Anytime I get my hands on the ball I feel I've got to score."

Nedney capped an 11-play, 47-yard drive with a 34-yard field goal with 2:55 left in the half for a 20-point bulge.

During their losing streak, the Colts have trailed by 18, 16 and 20 points at the half.

"Today's game was very similar to the last two weeks where we just get the big deficits and dig ourselves a hole and don't have enough to fight back," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "It is very disappointing. It was obviously a big game, a divisional game."

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