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Titans' defense does the heavy work

11/3/2002

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The Tennessee Titans didn't need big plays
from Steve McNair or Eddie George. A little ball control and a
strong defensive effort were enough Sunday.

Keith Bulluck returned a fumble 61 yards for one touchdown, and
Peter Sirmon's interception led to a second TD as the Titans moved
into a first-place tie in the AFC South with a 23-15 victory over
the Indianapolis Colts.

Question on the Titans: How is it that the Titans have turned their season around?
The Titans turned it around because some of their division opponents are weak. The Colts have not progressed the last few years. They have gone back to the pack defensively. They can't lean on the defense to win. Offensively, they are struggling. They have no running game, and Peyton Manning isn't playing particularly well. That has given the Titans opportunities to get back in the playoff race against divisional opponents.

Question on the Colts: Is Edgerrin James the main reason for Indy's struggles or is this a considerably flawed team?
The Colts have problems with the style of their offense. Without James and a running game, they will have problems. But when I've looked at the Colts the last few years, it seems like they are predictable. If an opposing team has veteran players and does some good studying, it will have success against the Colts' offense.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

"We talked all week about the Colts being a turnover team. When
they get the ball on turnovers, they've won games,'' Titans coach
Jeff Fisher said. "When they turn it over, they struggle.''

The Titans (4-4) forced the issue Sunday, and even though their
offense managed just 198 yards, the defense made sure it was more
than enough to give the team its third straight victory.

Indianapolis (4-4) lost its third straight. The Colts struggled
early again and fell behind 20-0 for the second straight game
because of three first half turnovers that the Titans turned into
17 points.

For the Colts, it was an all-too-familiar storyline.

"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's
disappointing.''

Part of the problem was that the Colts again failed to establish
their running game. They were playing without two-time NFL rushing
champ Edgerrin James and his backup, Ricky Williams, who was a late
scratch after being expected to start. Both were inactive because
of hamstring injuries, and the Titans took advantage of their
absence.

While the Colts produced 378 yards in offense and James Mungro
ran 16 times for 60 yards, Indianapolis didn't score until the
game's final 13 minutes. By then they'd fallen behind 23-0.

Making matters worse was a crowd that turned on the Colts during
another abysmal first half.

Titans fans chanted "Ed-die, Ed-die'' for George, and Colts
fans booed quarterback Peyton Manning and the struggling offense
throughout the half. At halftime, following a missed 46-yard field
goal by Mike Vanderjagt -- the NFL's most accurate kicker -- the boos
grew louder. By early in the fourth quarter, Colts fans were
leaving.

George rushed 22 times for 95 yards, while McNair was 14-of-19
for 82 yards and one touchdown -- but it was good enough.

"We established something we wanted to establish,'' McNair
said. "We wanted to eliminate mistakes and methodically move down
the field and we did.''

The Colts fumbled four times in the game's first 20 minutes,
including once on Tank Williams' blindside hit of Manning. Bulluck
scooped up the loose ball and ran 61 yards for the touchdown to
make it 17-0 early in the second quarter.

"I thought 'Oh man, look at all that open field,''' Bulluck
said. "I just scooped it up, and that's what it was.''

Manning, who finished 37-of-50 for 327 yards and two touchdowns,
also threw one interception. Sirmon returned that 31 yards to the
Colts 25, and five plays later, McNair threw a 3-yard TD pass to
Mike Green.

Indianapolis avoided its first shutout since December 1993 when
Manning hooked up with Mike Roberg with 12:17 to go. Manning then
found Marvin Harrison for the 2-point conversion to make it 23-8.

Manning and Harrison connected on a 19-yard TD pass with 1:57
left to cut it to 23-15. Harrison finished with 11 catches for 99
yards.

Joe Nedney connected field goals of 28, 34 and 39 yards, and the
Tennessee defense took care of the rest.

"When the receivers caught the ball, they paid. When the
running backs ran the ball, they paid. We just kept hitting them,''
Bulluck said. "If they get 1,000 yards and we win the game, we
don't care.''

Game notes
Colts running back Jim Finn started in place of James and
Williams, and Finn fumbled on his first two receptions of the game.
... McNair tied Warren Moon's franchise record by throwing a
touchdown pass in his 21st consecutive game. ... Nedney made three
field goals for the third consecutive week. ... Titans safety Lance
Schulters separated his left shoulder late in the third quarter and
is questionable for next week's game against Houston.