Titans' Recent Hot Stretch Not Unexpected, Manning Says
INDIANAPOLIS – If there are those who did not expect the Tennessee Titans to become one of the NFL's hottest teams in recent weeks, Peyton Manning does not count himself among them.
The Colts' quarterback is not surprised with the Titans' run. Not even close.
Manning, a three-time Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player, said what the Titans have done in the last five games has been impressive, but he said the only thing that is surprising about Indianapolis' longtime AFC South rival was what happened before the recent stretch.
"They're a good team," Manning said Wednesday as the Colts (11-0) prepared to play the Titans (5-6) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"They're playing very well right now. They're maybe one of the hottest teams in the league right now. They're a team we're familiar with, and they're familiar with us. It's really hard to trick them. It really comes down to the execution.
"We're glad to have them here at home, because I know our crowd will be into it, but it will be a tough game."
The Colts, who last Sunday clinched a sixth AFC South title in seven years with a 35-27 victory at Houston Sunday, also extended their franchise-record regular-season winning streak to 20 games. It is the second-longest regular-season winning streak in NFL history, one shy of the NFL record.
The 2006-08 New England Patriots won 21 consecutive regular-season games.
The Colts, who have made the postseason an NFL-best eight consecutive seasons, lead the AFC by three games over San Diego (8-3) and Cincinnati (8-3).
"[Colts Head] Coach [Jim] Caldwell has not stressed that to us," Manning said. "His points of emphasis this week have been the same as every week, especially when we're playing a division game. There's extra emphasis and it kind of counts double, as we always say.
"That has been his approach every single team we've played, and that's certainly the approach now. That's served us well so far. I don't see any reason to abandon that theory now."
Said Caldwell, "For us, every game is still just as imant. We've still got a lot to fight for, and this game for us will be no different than any one we've played up until this time.
"We still are going at it the same way in terms of our preparation and we know that if we don't get better this week, we've got a problem on our hands. So, we've got to continue to get better."
The Colts also are one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL, with New Orleans being the other, but when Manning spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon, the topic was more about the Titans' winning streak than that of the Colts.
Tennessee at the beginning of the season lost six consecutive games, with one of the losses coming 31-9 to the Colts, and another coming 59-0 to New England. Shortly after the loss to New England, Tennessee moved quarterback Vince Young into the starting lineup.
The No. 4 overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, Young has led the Titans to five consecutive victories, a stretch that has moved Tennessee within one game of the AFC's second wild-card position.
"What Vince Young has been able to do speaks volumes," Manning said. "He really has played well, and other players have kind of raised their level of play since he has been there.
"The thing I always found amazing was how and why they were 0-6. To me, they're playing now like what you're used to seeing and really how I always kind of thought. They're sound. They have good players. They're well-coached, and they're tough to move the ball against.
"What you're really seeing now is what you're used to seeing."
Young, who has completed 83 of 132 passes for 1,010 yards and four touchdowns since his return, last week directed a 99-yard touchdown drive in the game's waning minutes, throwing a 10-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Kenny Britt on the final play of a 20-17 victory over Arizona.
"It is impressive," Manning said. "It's hard to sit and sit and sit, then all of a sudden come in and play. It's certainly a lot different when you're out there facing the bullets, but he has been very impressive. Our defense, having played against him in the past, knows all the different challenges that he provides – his ability to use his legs, his athletic ability, as well as his arm – so it's a different kind of challenge for them.
"It's playing almost a different offense for our defense than the first time around."
While the Colts beat Tennessee by 22 points in Nashville, the Colts led just 7-6 before pulling away with two touchdowns late in the second quarter. The Titans in that game were without cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Vincent Fuller in that game, and lost cornerback Nick Harper to an arm injury during the game.
"Really, our first game was a lot closer than the score showed," Manning said. "They had to settle for a couple of field goals and we had a couple of big plays there before the half. We had some short fields, so we need to do a good job of trying to make some long drives, protect the ball and keep our defense out of tough situations.
"Hopefully, we can score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals. That always helps."
The Tennessee victory for the Colts was part of a stretch of four games in which it out-scored four opponents – Arizona, Seattle, Tennessee and St. Louis by 96 points. Since then, the Colts have won five games by a total of 18 points, rallying in the fourth quarter of each game.
"That's something we'd like to a better job of – scoring early," Manning said. "You always want to try to get the lead and keep the lead. It's something we need to improve on, and this would be a great week to do it."