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Colts Like Living on the Edge

James runs for 100 yards in second half, rallying Indianapolis to a 31-17 win over Tennessee.

September 20, 2004|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

NASHVILLE — Pushed to the precipice of an 0-2 start, the Indianapolis Colts relied on the man called -- what else? -- "Edge" to bring them back.

Running back Edgerrin James rushed for 100 of his 124 yards in the second half Sunday, powering the Colts to a 31-17 comeback victory over the Tennessee Titans at the Coliseum.

James not only knocked out the Titans with fourth-quarter touchdown runs of four and 30 yards, he distanced himself from the awful memory of an opening-game loss at New England when he fumbled away two opportunities in the red zone. Quarterback Peyton Manning had no doubt E.J. was OK after that debacle.

"He's one of those guys you don't have to go put your arm around," Manning said. "Like in the locker room last week, all he said was, 'Hey, P, my bad.' I know it bothers him. You don't have to go pep-talk him. He's a pro."

By winning, the Colts avoided their first 0-2 start since 1998, Manning's rookie year, when they lost their first four and eight of nine on their way to a 3-13 finish. They also beat Tennessee for the third consecutive time, recovering from a 17-10 deficit with three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

"We let this thing slip away in the second half," said Titan Coach Jeff Fisher, whose team came into the game having lost only once in its previous 13 games at home.

The AFC South showdown pitted Manning and Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, who shared league most-valuable-player honors last season, as well as James and Chris Brown, the dazzling second-year replacement for longtime Titan running back Eddie George. Early on, the stage belonged to Brown. He scored the opening touchdown on a 20-yard run, and finished with a game-high 152 yards in 26 carries -- 104 of which came in the first half.

The only questions surrounding Brown concern his durability. He was sidelined for five games as a rookie because of a hamstring injury, and -- despite rushing for 100 yards in the Titans' season opener at Miami -- didn't play in the second half because of a sprained ankle. He looked plenty healthy Sunday.

"I feel real good after the game," he said, catching himself, "besides the fact that we lost."

Part of Tennessee's undoing was its inability to convert on third and fourth down. The Titans converted six of 13 third downs, and failed three times on fourth-down tries, once botching a fake punt.

"It was frustrating having third and one and not converting," said Titan receiver Drew Bennett, a UCLA alumnus who caught seven passes for 85 yards. "It was frustrating not catching the ball when I should catch the ball. It was frustrating walking over to the sidelines knowing their offense was coming back on the field."

The running lanes might never have opened for James had the Colts not gotten their passing game going in the second half. The Indianapolis defense toughened, too, when the game was on the line.

The Colts made a couple of pivotal plays in the fourth quarter:

* With the score tied, 17-17, McNair dropped back on fourth and two at the Indianapolis 27 and tried to hit Derrick Mason in the front corner of the end zone. Cornerback Nick Harper pulled the ball from Mason as they tumbled to the turf. "I just snatched it out of his hands," said Harper, who made the only interception of the day for either team.

* On the ensuing drive, the Colts began with a flea-flicker that fizzled, resulting in Manning's getting sacked for a loss of 10. But on the next play, Manning connected on a 17-yard pass to Reggie Wayne. That helped keep the go-ahead touchdown drive alive.

Manning and others identified that big reception by Wayne as the play that swung the momentum in the Colts' favor -- especially because it came on the heels of a Tennessee sack.

"Their crowd was loud, their defense was pumped up," Manning said. "We'd run a flea-flicker, and sometimes that can be a disrespect play to the defense. I won't repeat what their defense was saying, but they didn't like that play call by us. So for us to come right back and to [eventually] get that first down, you're looking at a huge swing there."

In the Indianapolis playbook, the Manning-to-Wayne play is called a "hole throw," referring to the open area between the cornerbacks and safeties when a defense is in two-deep coverage. This particular hole throw also helped dig the Colts out of one -- they do, after all, play host to Green Bay this week, meaning an 0-3 start was entirely conceivable.

"It's either bounce back or self-destruct," Wayne said. "You do one of the two. And I advise you to bounce back."

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