The Tennessee Titans (9-5) controlled the clock and the New England Patriots on Monday night and, in so doing, retained control of the AFC South. Tennessee dominated the Super Bowl champions on both sides of the ball, rushing for 238 yards and holding New England to 176 yards of total offense.
Eddie George rushed for 101 yards in the game and Robert Holcombe picked up 85 yards, including a 39-yard jaunt on the third play of the game. It was Steve McNair's legs, however, that gave the Titans command of the game. McNair scored the first two touchdowns of the game to put the Titans ahead 14-0.
Tennessee had the ball for an overwhelming 41:30 of the game, and rendered Tom Brady and the Patriots offense ineffective. Brady completed 14 of 29 passes for 134 yards and threw a costly interception.
Early in the third quarter, one possession after cutting Tennessee's lead to 14-7 on Brady's 10-yard touchdown run, New England got the ball back with a chance to even the score. On the first play of the possession, however, Brady's pass was intercepted by Tennessee safety Rich Coady and returned for a touchdown. New England's offense never recovered, picking up just two first downs the rest of the way.
"We are a legit football team," Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "People have called us pretenders, suspect, whatever; we take that personally. What better stage to prove it than a Monday Night Football game.''
The win did not come without a price. Starting left tackle Brad Hopkins went down with a sprained MCL and will be out 2-3 weeks. That injury is compounded by the fact that left guard Zach Piller is out 4-6 weeks after injuring a calf against the Colts. Tom Ackerman started in place of Piller and Jason Mathews replaced Hopkins.
Tennessee is currently tied for the best record in the AFC but, amazingly, with just two games remaining they have not locked up a playoff spot. One win would put them in the playoffs. Two wins would guarantee them the AFC South title and a first-round bye.
They head to Jacksonville to face the team that got it all started. After starting 1-4, a Titans win over the Jaguars propelled them to eight wins in their next nine games.
The Indianapolis offense exploded in the second half to rally the Colts (9-5) to a vital 28-23 win over the Cleveland Browns. With the win, Indianapolis maintained its place in the driver's seat for an AFC wild-card berth. The Colts are still tied with the Titans for first place in the AFC South, but trail in the head-to-head tie-breaker.
Trailing 16-0 at the half, Peyton Manning ignited the Indianapolis offense, completing 15 of 21 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
"This isn't week three," Manning said. "This is do-or-die time. We were down 16-0. We've got 30 minutes left. You're looking at 30 minutes left in the season, basically."
The Colts picked up 297 yards of total offense in the half and scored touchdowns on four of their first five drives. James Mungro scored two of those touchdowns and Marvin Harrison scored the other two.
Harrison also broke the NFL record for receptions in a season in the game. Needing six receptions to break the old mark of 123, Harrison hauled in nine receptions for 172 yards. He caught six passes for 118 yards in the second half.
Cleveland began the game much the same way they ended last week's game vs. the Jaguars. Tim Couch hit Quincy Morgan on the first play of the game for a 78-yard touchdown. With the exception of a 66-yard touchdown drive, however, their offense went dormant in the second half.
The Browns, interestingly, had a shot to win on their last offensive play for the second consecutive week, this time from just five yards out. Tim Couch's pass into a crowd, however, fell incomplete.
A lot is on the line for the Colts in these final two games. They could win the division and have a bye in the first round, or they could be shut out of the playoffs. They play their final two games at home, but their opponent this week, the New York Giants (8-6), are also playing for their playoff lives.
The Houston Texans' (4-10) 23-19 loss to the Baltimore Ravens was very similar to several losses earlier this season: a tight, hard-fought contest in which penalties and turnovers eventually cost them a shot at victory.
On their second possession of the game, David Carr threw an interception to Ed Reed, who returned it 20 yards to the Houston 12-yard line. That set up a field goal to give the Ravens a 3-0 lead. His second interception came on Houston's final possession and sealed Baltimore's win.
Penalties were just as damaging to the Texans. Houston was penalized nine times for 58 yards, while Baltimore was penalized only twice for 15 yards. The Texans suffered at least one penalty on six of their 10 drives in the game.
"This game was very frustrating for me because I thought we were capable of hanging in and having chances to win this football game," Texans coach Dom Capers said.
"We had critical situations where we had critical penalties, which hurt us. Most games are won because the team doesn't beat itself. We can't expect to go out and have those types of errors and expect to win a football game. There is a fine line between winning and losing," Capers added.
Following his first interception, Carr responded by leading the Texans on a 91-yard touchdown drive to put Houston ahead 7-3. Baltimore, however, would score the next 17 points on the strength of two Jeff Blake touchdown passes. The first was the result of an incredible leaping catch in a crowd of bodies by Travis Taylor.
Avion Black kept the Texans in the game with a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter. That touchdown cut the lead to 20-14 heading into the final stanza.
After the two teams traded field goals in the fourth quarter, the Ravens elected to take an intentional safety with nearly 2:30 remaining in the game, instead of punting out their own end zone. The decision paid off when Carr was intercepted by Chad Williams on the third play of Houston's ensuing drive.
Houston travels to Washington to face Steve Spurrier's 5-9 Redskins Sunday. A win would give the Texans the second-most successful inaugural season for an expansion team in NFL history, passing the 4-12 Jaguars of 1995. The Carolina Panthers went 6-10 in 1995.