NFL Nation: Titans-Colts 120609

Clint Session put one giant hit on Chris Johnson during the course of Indy’s 27-17 win over Tennessee Sunday. The linebacker was a key player in slowing down Johnson but was surprised and unhappy to learn after the game that Johnson got 100 yards.

Johnson
But look what qualifies as slowing down Johnson these days: He ran 27 times for 113 yards for a 4.2 yard average and had a long run of 11 yards.

“They never really gave him the big run; that’s really how Johnson has made a name for himself, breaking away on those big runs,” Peyton Manning said.

“Obviously you want to keep running backs under 100 yards, but it’s all about the win at the end of the game,” Dwight Freeney said. “Yeah, we could have done better, but we did good enough.”

Johnson seemed content with the run game’s work, but was annoyed about the Titans going 2-5 in the red zone and 0-3 on fourth down.

“I knew we had success running the ball all day," Johnson said. "We didn't have any large-yardage plays, it was 5 here and 6 there, so I knew we had success running the ball. The red zone killed us, just killed us.”

From the NFL: Johnson leads the league with 1,509 rushing yards and became only the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 1,500 yards in his team’s first 12 games. He joins Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Walter Payton and O.J. Simpson, as well as Terrell Davis, as the only players to accomplish the feat.
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesThe Indianapolis Colts won their 21st regular-season game in a row on Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Be honest. You expect it.

The Indianapolis Colts' 27-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans Sunday is the Colts' 21st straight regular-season triumph. Now that's impressive. But there aren’t streamers floating over Indy. There is no parade scheduled or dancing in the streets.

The Lucas Oil Stadium press box was hardly jammed for the game that saw the franchise match the 2006-08 New England Patriots’ record winning streak. It won’t be stuffed next week either, when the Colts -- now 12-0 this season -- have a chance to own the consecutive victories record outright when the Denver Broncos visit.

Despite the urgings I get in my e-mail, I don’t invest any time, energy or belief in a good team being under-the-radar or forgotten -- certainly not one quarterbacked by the league’s most recognizable and marketed star.

Where national media are concerned, everybody’s taken a turn checking in on Peyton Manning. They've noted that the Colts defense can be overshadowed by him. They've marveled at how the team overcomes injuries. They've discussed how the team has succeeded during the coaching transition from Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell. They've reported that the Colts always seem prepared, under the direction of executive Bill Polian, for every contingency.

But let’s be honest.

When there also is a 12-0 team in the Superdome in the New Orleans Saints, that’s big. Their venture into uncharted territory is exciting, especially since their fans used to wear paper bags over their heads.

That seems understandable to me. It's also reasonable -- if a touch unfair -- that the Colts are expected to win games and match their standards and be steady and uncontroversial and consistently good, leaving us to debate their regular-season success against the penchant for postseason underachievement.

Teenagers in Indianapolis think of the Colts’ .733 regular-season winning percentage since 1999 as part of the city’s fabric, just like open-wheel racing, conventions and high school basketball.

And any ho-hum feeling for it extends across the country.

“We’re probably not the darling,” center Jeff Saturday said. “It’s one of those things that we’ve won a lot of games over the years and I think there are certain expectations that we are going to win.”

“I think we’ve won the most games in the decade or something like that,” said Dwight Freeney, whose sack of Titans' quarterback Vince Young put him in double digits for a sixth time in his career. “It hasn’t always translated into championship wins at the end of the year. But we have a good system around here.

“And I think people get used to that -- ‘Oh yeah, the Colts are 9-0, 10-0’ and it’s always, ‘What are we going to see in the playoffs and what’s going to happen?’ We understand that and hopefully we can keep this momentum going.”

Hallmarks that have come with it all are a humility in line with Dungy and Caldwell and a respect from opponents for the way the Colts piece it all together.

The Titans were playing as well as anyone in the league, including the Colts. They’d won five in a row in exhausting, draining work. The Titans said a streak over four times as long as theirs was something that deserves a great deal of credit.

“It’s hard to win week-in and week-out in this league and that’s an incredible accomplishment to win 21 regular-season games in a row,” said Titans fullback Ahmard Hall.

Against the Titans (5-7), a fast start was a big theme.

With cornerback Cortland Finnegan blanketing Reggie Wayne with help from a safety, Tennessee was determined to force Manning to look elsewhere. He had no problem doing so, hitting Pierre Garcon with three passes for 99 yards in the first quarter alone. Manning often took advantage of the coverage of a former teammate, Titans defensive back Nick Harper.

Finnegan was distraught after the loss. The Titans had an effective game plan on Wayne -- he finished with four catches for 48 yards -- but that didn’t translate to a win.

He was the first to greet Manning as the two teams exchanged pleasantries on the field in the final seconds.

“I told him I appreciate what he’s done for the game, what he stands for,” Finnegan said. “He was relaying the same thing to me, that he appreciates the way I play the game, and to stay healthy. It was just kind words to each other. I just wished him the best of luck on what they’ve got going.”

For Indianapolis, the victory was a return to the form of their early-season success. In recent weeks they were forced to come from behind. And while doing so forged a certain toughness, confidence and resiliency that may be big resources in the playoffs, it’s not the preferred formula.

“We did talk about, ‘Hey, these comebacks are nice, but we don’t have to,’” said Manning, whose Colts led 21-3 at one point. “I’ve always thought comeback wins, they’re good, but it means you screwed up in the first three quarters to put yourself in that position.”

A victory over the Broncos will bring the Colts closer to their goals of a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as well. When they have those, odds are they will let up, and when they let up, odds are they will lose and the streak will crack.

Saturday didn’t indicate Manning will be accepting of that.

But he’s not so sure about the streak as it stands anyway.

“For me the playoff loss breaks it up,” he said pointing back to the San Diego Chargers' elimination of the Colts in January. “I don’t know. However the statisticians do it. You lose in San Diego and that’s really why you play the game, right? To win in the playoffs? So I don’t look at it really like that . . .

“It’s great when you hear it. It’s really not a goal that we set.”

Caldwell said his Colts probably will make mention of it when they gather on Wednesday, and maybe take a minute to appreciate it before they go quietly back to work.

“I think I’ve used this before, I think I stole it from somebody, but it’s without unmitigated pleasure,” he said. “The guys enjoy it, they like it, but it’s not something that goes to their head. I think they are starting to believe a bit like I do in the sense that we’ll tally them up when the season’s over. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Pondering Titans-Colts at the half

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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INDIANAPOLIS – So how little time is too little time for Peyton Manning to get the Colts a field goal before the end of a half?

Twenty seconds and two timeouts was plenty, and Matt Stover’s 43-yard field goal gave Indianapolis a 24-10 halftime lead.

It’s silly, how easily they move it in such situations. They got a 15-yard bonus on Tony Brown’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

He’ll pay a big fine, too, for poking his hand into Kyle DeVan’s facemask as they argued after a play. Brown kept it going after the next play and beyond. Lucky he wasn’t tossed, as he put his hands on an official as things were being sorted out.

A couple other halftime notes:

Clint Session gets better and better. He’s really a quality defensive playmaker. He stopped Chris Johnson on one play with the sort of squared up tackle we rarely see of CJ. His hit on Ahmard Hall also forced a fumble.

People will jump on Vince Young for how he reacted to the pick he threw to Jacob Lacey. But as he ran to Kenny Britt it appeared he simply wanted to emphasize how he needs Britt to come back to him in such a situation. Delivery of the message may have been bad, as was the throw. But the message was fine.

Nate Washington’s early deep drop is going to be on the list of the five plays the Titans regret most when this season’s over.

Kelvin Hayden looks fine, and a cornerback trio of Hayden, Jerraud Powers and Lacey is more than good enough to win with going forward.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 4, 2009
12/04/09
4:02
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:

[+] EnlargeDallas Clark
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Titans may not have enough people to keep Colts tight end Dallas Clark in check.
Dallas Clark had nine catches for 77 yards when the Colts dismantled the Titans on Oct. 11. He told Nashville media this week that Tennessee doesn’t generally lock in one guy to matchup with him, but that he expects nickelback Vincent Fuller most of the time with a splash of Keith Bulluck. With Clark, Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie playing well and Pierre Garcon rebounding from a tough stretch, will the Colts have more targets than the Titans are able to defend with Cortland Finnegan, Nick Harper and Fuller as the primary defensive backs?

Minus cornerback Rashean Mathis (groin), the Jaguars have given up significant passing yardage the last two weeks -- 297 to the Bills 26th-rated pass offense, 232 to the 23rd-rated Niners. What’s that mean as they head into a game against Houston, which is ranked third? Pass pressure’s been an issue for the Jaguars. Matt Schaub is much less effective against the blitz, but can the Jaguars afford to send extra rushers when their coverage is already more susceptible without Mathis?

If Chris Johnson runs for 104 yards in Indianapolis, he’ll become just the fifth player ever to reach 1,500 in the first 12 games of the season. Walter Payton did it in 11 games in 1977, Jim Brown did it in a dozen games in 1958 and 1963, O.J. Simpson did it in 1973 and 1975 and Terrell Davis did it in 1998. Only two of those six seasons wound up over 2,000 yards. Johnson’s 1,396 yards this season put him on pace for 2,031 and is currently ahead of where Eric Dickerson and Jamal Lewis were through 11 games when they had the top two rushing seasons in NFL history. If CJ tops 125 rush yards, he’ll be the first player ever to do it in seven consecutive games.

Brian Cushing against Maurice Jones-Drew should a very compelling matchup. Cushing been resting a foot injury during the week but playing fantastic on Sundays, making a case for defensive rookie of the year. The Jaguars will doubtlessly look to establish MJD and feed him the ball early and often. Three of the four times MJD has had fewer than 10 touches in the first half, they’ve lost and the one they won they jumped up to a big lead early and basically rested him.

The Titans five-game winning streak isn’t in the ballpark of the Colts’ 20-game string (11 this year), but add this year’s stretches together and you’ve got something. Tennessee and Indy square off tied for the longest combined winning streak -- 16 games -- in an NFL Week 13 game since the AFL-NFL merger. In 1984 Denver (10) and Seattle (six) played in similar circumstances, with the Seahawks winning by three.

Bulluck: Addai's 'no slouch'

December, 4, 2009
12/04/09
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Joseph AddaiBob Levey/Getty ImagesJoseph Addai has been quietly effective this season, rushing for 583 yards and seven touchdowns so far.
Don’t measure Joseph Addai against Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson. It doesn’t make sense. He’s not the core of his team’s offensive system the way those guys are.

And while he wasn’t himself last year -- part injury, part tentativeness -- in recent weeks he’s run with more authority and shown himself to be plenty effective in the situations where the Colts need him to run it.

Football Outsiders, which measures players against the average production at their position, had him 17th overall, which isn’t bad when you consider the team’s passing offense he’s asked to complement. They also measure success rate, which factors in the context of carries. He’s got a 52 percent success rate, better than Johnson and Peterson as well as Steven Jackson, DeAngelo Williams and Cedric Benson.

Pro Football Focus, which rates players based on their effectiveness on each play, doesn’t have Addai as high, but does have him tied for fifth as a blocker, and the halfback for the Colts has to be able to pick up blitzes and do his part to keep Peyton Manning upright.

“Joe’s awesome, he’s a stud,” guard Ryan Lilja said. “He doesn’t read the papers. At least that’s how he acts and he keeps grinding it out, keeps communicating with us and keeps trying to get better. He hasn’t been disgruntled, nobody has. I like that characteristic of this team and of him in particular …”

“I don’t know what our average per carry is. It’s something we address every single week and coach says it every week. If they’re giving up 3.5 a carry, he puts that number up every week and I think we try to beat that.”

Addai is an easy-going, likable guy. At bad times, I guess it can be read as a little detached or dispassionate, but I think that’s a mistake.

“It’s life. I kind of look at football as life,” Addai said. “Everybody in their career goes through things no matter what. How are you going to respond? It’s always what you do next.”

What he does next is try to be productive on key carries against the Titans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“He’s doing what is asked of him with the opportunities he is given,” Keith Bulluck said. “He runs hard, he runs downhill, he’s no slouch, he’s no pushover. If he was, I would have something to say.”

Why it's working for Young v. 2.0

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
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Vince YoungStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThrough five games as a starter this season, Vince Young has played like the quarterback the Titans thought they were drafting in 2006.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Three days after what could be a career-defining win and what qualified as a reputation-restoring drive, Vince Young found himself surrounded by a bigger crowd than usual Wednesday after practice.

The Titans' quarterback still doesn’t understand some of the questions about how things have changed for him, but he’s gotten very good at talking about how he likes his fans and critics all the same, and I believe he means it.

It’s a lot easier, of course, for him to like the critics -- and it’s no secret I’ve been one -- when you’re doing so much to quiet them down.

This Vince Young has shown he can stand in the pocket and throw with touch just as easily as he can take off and run for a first down. He has shown a willingness to study. He has shown an ability to let go of the bad and move on. He has shown a confidence that had disappeared when he lost his job at the start of the 2008 season.

He has shown a lot, but he’s not finished yet and he knows it. A five-game sampling has been great, but the competition hasn’t been tremendous, the supporting cast has played very well and he knows people want more. Heck, he wants more too.

“I’m still working, still working, still working,” he said. “This is my fourth year. I’ve got a long way to go.”

Halfway through Young’s 10-game season, he’s certainly on track to make Jeff Fisher’s longstanding coachspeak about being the quarterback of the future turn true.

Let’s check in on where he stands in several areas that were issues for him while he was benched and forced to serve an apprenticeship while Kerry Collins started 22 games.

(Read full post)

Johnson: 'I want MVP'

December, 2, 2009
12/02/09
4:33
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson isn’t concerned with Brett Favre, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees.

Chris Johnson
Don McPeak/US PresswireChris Johnson doesn't think team records should play into the MVP voting.
The Titans’ second-year running back joked Wednesday after practice that he intends to launch an MVP campaign soon.

“Of course I should be in the conversation,” he said. “And I’m about to start a campaign, an MVP campaign. Everything. When is the voting?”

And while he expects the Titans to fulfill the prophecy he offered after the Titans' first win that they would win 10 in a row and make the playoffs, he said it shouldn’t have to come true for him to win the honor.

“I don’t understand that,” he said “MVP, that’s an individual goal, that’s not a team goal. Last year, my team, we had a first-round bye, went to the playoffs and all that and they still gave Matt Ryan [offensive] rookie of the year. So it shouldn’t have to go on how good your team is doing.”

He also said he’s not sure a 2,000-yard season is a necessity, though he’s currently on pace for 2,030 rushing yards. That number is too far away for him to think about much now, he said.

Johnson will be pleased to know he's moved up in Mike Sando's weekly "MVP Watch."

Voters who prefer one of the quarterbacks of a playoff team for MVP might look to Johnson for a different award -- offensive player of the year.

The MVP and offensive player of the year have been the same player for the four of the last five seasons. Last year Manning was MVP while Brees was offensive player of the year.

In the five seasons before that, a quarterback was MVP while a running back was offensive player of the year four times.

Marshall Faulk was OPOY twice when Kurt Warner was MVP. Priest Holmes won the second award when Rich Gannon was MVP in 2002. The same scenario played out for Jamal Lewis when Peyton Manning and Steve McNair were co-MVPs a year later.

“That’d be good too,” Johnson said of possibly being offensive player of the year. “But I want MVP.”

Will the Colts go unbeaten?

December, 2, 2009
12/02/09
1:40
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I don’t see the Colts going undefeated through the regular season. I am certain they aren’t going to be heartbroken if or when it doesn’t happen.

They could lose Sunday to Tennessee, a hot and dangerous team that’s played as well or better than the Colts in recent weeks. The AFC South rivals have split the season series the past three years -- though a couple of games at the end of those seasons had no meaning for one or both teams. The Titans are seeking to avenge a 31-9 loss on "Sunday Night Football" Oct. 11 and have far more to lose as they try to claw their way into the wild-card picture.

But even if the Colts beat the Titans, they’ll drop at least a game down the stretch when they take their foot off the gas. Coach Jim Caldwell and president Bill Polian have each made it clear that an undefeated season isn’t the team’s goal. Polian says momentum heading into the playoffs is an overrated concept.

Like the Titans, the Broncos will have more on the line than the Colts when they visit Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 13.

A team that’s been beat up a lot this year will rest a lot of injured or tired players in games that don’t mean anything at the end of the season. Pull Dwight Freeney, Clint Session and Antoine Bethea off the defense and even the Jets and Bills will find yards. And is Jim Sorgi throwing to Hank Baskett going to put fear into New York or Buffalo?

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireFlirting with a 16-0 record is nothing new for Peyton Manning and the Colts.
Indianapolis wouldn’t mind if 16-0 happened, obviously, but it’s not a primary goal. And dropping a couple of games late after a long undefeated stretch is hardly new territory for the franchise -- it was 7-0 in 2007, 9-0 in 2006 and 13-0 in 2005.

Getting in position to win in the playoffs trumps everything. It hasn’t been something this team’s done well outside of its 2006 championship season. But it’s hardly thinking of an undefeated regular season as any sort of prerequisite.

Here’s how ESPN.com national writers John Clayton and Len Pasquarelli see it.

Clayton: The reason the Colts will not go 16-0 is because they don’t need to go 16-0. At different times during Manning’s incredible career, the Colts have flirted with the perfect regular season. Once they clinched home field, they started to think ahead to the playoffs, which left them vulnerable to a loss. That will be the case again this year.

Their remaining five games are winnable. They play teams with a combined record of 27-28, the 14th-easiest closing schedule in the league. Indianapolis’ only two remaining opponents with winning records are the Broncos (Dec. 13) and Jaguars (Dec. 17). They can win those games. But it’s also possible for the Colts to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs once they get to 13 wins. Once that happens, the Colts will focus on the playoffs.

Manning, Polian and everyone who has been around the organization realize the idea is to win two games in the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl. That’s why they will start figuring out how to rest starters, including Manning, in the final three weeks. If that happens, they could lose to the Jets on Dec. 27 or the Bills on Jan. 3.

Pasquarelli: In winning their past five games by a total of 18 points, all with fourth-quarter comebacks, the Colts have demonstrated a remarkable resourcefulness. But in doing so, they have also rung up not only the division title, but also a three-game lead over all other AFC franchises, and are poised to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

It would take a monumental collapse in December for the Colts to have to leave Lucas Oil Stadium for a postseason game, and the likelihood of that is extremely remote. On the other hand, once they clinch that right, there is no other carrot to dangle in front of the noses of the prideful Colts, save for a perfect season. And remaining unbeaten going into the playoffs isn’t a big priority for a Colts team that has now been to the postseason eight straight times, but owns just one Super Bowl ring.

The priority for Indianapolis, as always, remains winning a championship, not every regular-season outing. Polian earlier this week debunked the importance of momentum entering the playoffs. That admission could be a tacit tip-off to the Colts’ strategy of resting some starters in December, and remaining as healthy as possible for the postseason. The Colts, who play every game with great intensity, will succumb to a degree of human nature once they clinch home-field advantage, and ratchet down just a hair, enough to drop a close game to someone.

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