On a three game losing streak and seemingly reeling, it all came together Sunday for the Indianapolis Colts. For one week, at least, all of the questions seemed to be answered.
Peyton Manning threw at will against a usually tough Eagles defense, and rookie James Mungro helped the Colts find their missing running game in an eye-opening 35-13 win in Philadelphia. The win keeps the Colts in a tie with the Tennessee Titans atop the AFC South standings.
After the Eagles kicked a field goal on their opening drive, Mungro took his first handoff of the day from Manning and raced 49 yards. The Colts offense never slowed down, outscoring Philadelphia 35-3 over the next 47 minutes of action. Not that the Eagles looked at the scoreboard to notice.
"I just didn't even look up there," Eagles safety Blaine Bishop said. "It was just play after play, and like, what are they doing to beat our defense every time?"
Manning completed 18 of 23 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns, Marvin Harrison caught six passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns, and Reggie Wayne hauled in an additional six balls for 121 yards and a touchdown. Mungro finished with 114 yards rushing -- the first Colts running back to break the 100 yard barrier since Edgerrin James did it in week two -- and Indianapolis ended with 446 yards of total offense, their highest output of the season.
Defensively, the Colts forced two turnovers, and came up with big plays when they needed to. They helped set up their offense's first score of the game by forcing the Eagles to go three and out from inside their own five. Then early in the second quarter, facing a fourth and one from the Colts six yard line, Donovan McNaab threw incomplete to Duce Staley to thwart a possible scoring drive.
"That was the first time that for 60 minutes we've really seen Colts football," Colts coach Tony Dungy said.
Entering Sunday, the Colts had lost three in a row, they were down to their last healthy running back, they were being booed at home, and they were in danger of falling out of the division lead. One win later and all seems to be well in Indianapolis. At 5-4, the Colts will return home to face the 3-6 Dallas Cowboys.
Dungy is expected to make a decision on injured running backs Edgerrin James and Ricky Williams later this week.
Depending how you look at it, the Titans may be the hottest team in the AFC South, but they didn't look like it in Sunday's 17-10 win over the 2-7 Houston Texans.
While the defense kept the Texans out of the endzone until late in the fourth quarter and created three turnovers, the offense struggled. After driving 93 yards for a touchdown on their second possession of the game, the Titans started three consecutive possessions inside Houston Texans territory, but managed a total of just three points. In the third quarter, a fourth drive that began on the Texans half of the field resulted in a Steve McNair interception.
"That game shouldn't have even been close. We should have put 21 more points on the board,'' wide receiver Derrick Mason said. ''Our defense put us in perfect position to score and we didn't.''
While the offense had trouble finding the endzone, the defense kept the Texans from seriously threatening. Trailing 17-3 in the fourth quarter, David Carr led the Texans on a 10 play 73 yard drive, capping it off with a 10 yard touchdown pass to Jarrod Baxter to draw the Texans to within seven with three minutes remaining. But on their final possession of the game, Carr threw an incomplete pass, was sacked and fumbled, then threw an interception on the Texans' last play.
"It's the second week in a row where our defense is showing signs of being able to make plays when they need to and get off the field and do the right things," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "I thought overall defensively that we did a nice job."
Tennessee held running back Jonathan Wells to 41 yards on 18 carries and the Texans to just 233 yards of total offense. Steve McNair and the Titans offense, however, didn't fare much better. McNair was just 10 of 21 passing for 109 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Both quarterbacks had passer ratings in the mid-50s for the game, but McNair threw for two touchdowns before Carr's lone touchdown pass late in the game.
The Titans go from facing a last place team to facing a first place team when they host the AFC North leading Pittsburgh Steelers. Adding to their challenge, the Titans have 10 players listed as questionable for the game, including McNair, Jevon Kearse, Randall Godfrey, Lance Schulters, and Frank Wychek.
Although McNair is labeled as questionable, Fisher stated on Monday that he expects his quarterback to practice and play this week. Whether or not that happens depends on the amount of swelling in McNair's big right toe. Fisher also noted that Kearse has experienced soreness in his broken foot, so his availability is less likely.
"It's going to be sore throughout the rest of the year," Fisher said. ``The thing we have to be sure of is he does not subject himself to re-injuring the foot. That's the reason for the X-ray. This is the start of the 10th week, so he should be very close to playing assuming he can play with the pain and the discomfort."
The once improving Houston offense has hit a wall the past two weeks. After scoring just three points against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Texans were held to the same total until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter against the Titans.
David Carr completed 19 of 34 passes, but was limited to 182 yards with two interceptions and a fumble. The Texans running game was almost non-existent, gaining just 68 yards on 24 attempts.
"They did a good job with their defensive front of getting pressure on our passing game. We had hard time establishing much from a run game standpoint."
Despite the turnovers and being placed in some bad situations, the Texans defense would not let the Titans take control of the game. They held Eddie George in check, they limited the Tennessee passing game to just 109 yards, and they intercepted two passes. Most impressively, they kept four Tennessee drives that began in Houston territory out of the endzone, including three in a row. After Tennessee's second drive of the game went 93 yards, the Titans mustered only 155 yards the rest of the way.
"They showed a lot of heart and competiveness. They went out there in adverse conditions and rose to the occasion a number of times," Texans coach Dom Capers said of his defense. "Our team is very disappointed. One thing I don't think you can ever question is the heart and competiveness of the group of guys in there."
After consecutive losses, the 2-7 Texans are looking to find another win, and they will start with the 4-5 Jacksonville Jaguars, the source of their last victory.
"Hopefully, our guys are motivated to play well at home because it's been awhile since we've played like we've wanted to play in front of our home fans," Capers said. The Texans are fairly healthy at this point of the season, but punt returner Jermaine Lewis is listed as questionable.