Colts Hold Off Tennessee, 30-28, at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
In a sense, Peyton Manning felt young again.
Manning, the Colts' 13-year veteran quarterback, threw a pair of first-half touchdowns and kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked three second-half field goals in a nationally-televised 30-28 prime-time victory over the Tennessee Titans in an AFC South game at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night.
It was a crucial victory.
It was also a victory that kept the Colts very much in the playoff chase.
And while the Colts could need a string of such victories to make the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season, Manning said needing to do so has taken him back a few years.
More than a few, actually.
"This was one game," said Manning, who completed 25 of 35 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 118.6.
"It reminds you of high school. You've got to win each game to kind of advance. This was kind of a playoff-type game and approach, and our backs were against the wall."
Of the victory over Tennessee, Manning said, "Just a really good win on the road in the division."
The Colts, after losing four of five games and their last three entering this week's game, still trail the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5) by a half-game in the AFC South. The Colts can clinch the AFC South with victories in their final three game no matter what Jacksonville does the rest of the season.
The Jaguars will play host to the Oakland Raiders (6-6) Sunday, with the Colts and Jaguars scheduled to play in Indianapolis December 19.
"Anytime you lose three in a row, you know those wins are precious," Colts Head Coach Caldwell said. "It's tough to do in this league, and particularly because our guys had to fight through some things."
The Colts, who have placed 16 players on injured reserve this season and entered the game without running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, linebacker Clint Session, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and wide receiver Austin Collie, finished the game thin on the offensive line.
Not only did offensive tackle Charlie Johnson leave the game with a shoulder injury, but guard Jamey Richard also left in the first half with an injury. That left the Colts with five healthy offensive linemen.
"We had five offensive linemen still standing, who could still play for us," Caldwell said. "We were fortunate to be able to get through that ballgame. They hung in there and played well. It was a great effort on the part of the team."
Manning said he was speaking with Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the sideline when Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen told him of the situation.
"He said, 'Richard's down and Charlie's down – they're going to get (rookie tight end) Brody (Eldridge) ready to play guard, possibly,'' Manning said, adding with a smile. "I turned to Reggie and said, 'Tell me what he just said.' He said, 'They're going to get Brody ready to play guard.' I went, 'OK.' That's not exactly the most comforting thing to hear, when your tight end is going to guard.
"We are beat up and we do need to get some guys back, but we have to continue to play better. We have a great test next week."
Caldwell said 10 days off before Jacksonville could help.
"Obviously, we were a little shaky from a physical standpoint during this time, but after it's over and done with, now we get a couple of extra days," Caldwell said. "Maybe we'll get a guy or two back."
The Colts out-gained Tennessee 399-365, with Titans running back Chris Johnson rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Titans quarterback Kerry Collins completed 28 of 39 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns.
The Colts also rushed for 87 yards on 32 carries, creating balance offensively that Manning said was imant.
"We had some ugly runs, but we had some that were effective," Manning said. "We had just enough of a mix, maybe, to sort of get us back in a three-dimensional offense, which is what you're always shooting for. I thought that was important."
Third-year wide receiver Pierre Garcon caught six passes for 93 yards and two first-half touchdowns for the Colts, and rookie running back Javarris James scored his sixth rushing touchdown of the season – a one-yarder late in the first quarter that gave the Colts an early 7-0 lead.
The Colts, who also had a 12-play drive on a first possession that resulted in no points, regained possession when defensive end Dwight Freeney stripped the ball from wide receiver Kenny Britt on a screen pass. Linebacker Tyjuan Hagler recovered at the 41.
Indianapolis then drove 59 yards, taking a 14-0 lead when Manning passed for a 1-yard touchdown to Garcon.
It was Freeney's fifth forced fumble of the season, and when Manning passed to Garcon, it marked the 13th time in as many seasons he has thrown 25 or more touchdowns in a season.
That's the longest such streak in NFL history by eight seasons.
"He played well," Caldwell said of Manning, who completed 15 of 22 first-half passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns as the Colts controlled early momentum. "He did a nice job of managing the game altogether.
"Peyton was Peyton. I'm sure he felt good about this performance, and we do as well."
The Colts pushed the lead to three touchdowns with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Garcon before the Titans cut the margin to a touchdown early in the second half.
First, the Titans made it 21-7 with a 1-yard run by running back Chris Johnson with :49 remaining in the first half, then Kerry Collins threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Craig Stevens on the first possession of the third quarter.
The Colts then pushed the lead to 27-14 with a 21-yard field goal by Vinatieri late in the third quarter and a 28-yard field goal by Vinatieri early in the fourth quarter.
The big play on the first field goal drive was a 46-yard pass Wayne.
Wayne, who earlier had set up the 1-yard touchdown to Garcon with a 50-yard gain on 3rd-and-14 to the Titans 13 in the first half, finished with four receptions for 106 yards. He had 14 receptions for 200 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys last week.
The Titans cut the lead to six, 27-21, when Collins passed four yards to tight end Bo Scaife, setting up a a crucial late-game drive. One of the game's key plays came on the drive immediately after Scaife's touchdown. Facing 2nd-and-10 from the Colts 25 with 3:37 remaining, Manning passed to Garcon. Two Titans defenders had a chance to tackle him short of the first-down marker, but Garcon broke free for a 43-yard gain.
"Very pivotal," Manning said. "A key play."
Vinatieri's 47-yard field goal four plays later pushed the Indianapolis lead to nine, securing a critical December victory.
"They had some momentum going, so that was huge," Caldwell said. "They were certainly feeling good about what they were getting accomplished from an offensive standpoint. That play (by Garcon) was great effort, and it certainly flipped the field for us."
Said Wayne, "All week, Peyton's been telling us, 'Just come out and have fun. We were able to come out there and get that done for the most part.'