Peyton Manning reached 4,000 yards. Marvin Harrison became the NFL’s No. 2 all-time receiver. Dallas Clark broke a 42-year-old franchise record. And the Colts won their 12th game for a sixth straight season, extending their own NFL record.
Indy followed Tony Dungy’s season-ending script to perfection, knocking out the individual milestones quickly enough for the starters to rest, and the backups put away AFC South champion Tennessee 23-0.
“We wanted to play well and get off to a fast start with our first unit, and we did that,” coach Tony Dungy said. “I’m proud of our guys and the way they played. I like where we are, and I think we’ll be ready next week.”
Now the Colts head West, to either Denver or San Diego, for a first-round playoff game next week against the AFC West champs. Indy is seeded fifth and could not improve its playoff position Sunday.
But the Colts (12-4) still played well enough to win their ninth straight. They have beaten the Chargers and the AFC North and South champs during the streak and enter the playoffs with their first shutout since Dec. 14, 1997.
They even did it despite deactivating eight key players including Bob Sanders, last season’s defensive player of the year. Tennessee (13-3) managed only 125 yards of offense and had just one first down in the first half.
Part of the reason was that the Titans followed a similarly cautious strategy. Coach Jeff Fisher put eight starters on the inactive list and yanked quarterback Kerry Collins after only three plays.
With nothing to gain after locking up the AFC’s top seed last week, Fisher simply tried to avoid showing too much.
“They’re playing very, very well, but there’s a chance we may play them again, so we just lined up and played today,” he said.
The disparity between the teams, though, was stark.
Manning was 7-of-7 for 95 yards with one touchdown and a perfect rating of 158.3, extending his NFL record of 4,000-yard seasons to nine before leaving after one series. Dan Marino is second all-time with six 4,000-yard seasons.
Clark broke the franchise season record for yards receiving by a tight end, catching six passes for 59 yards. He finished with 848 yards, surpassing Hall-of-Famer John Mackey’s 829 in 1966.
Harrison caught seven passes for 31 yards, passing Cris Carter (1,101) for second all-time, and now has 1,102.
Indy’s backups were productive, too.
Jim Sorgi, Manning’s replacement, finished 22-of-30 for 178 yards and gave his toddler son, who was attending his first game, something to remember. Sorgi led the Colts on four scoring drives and helped the Colts take control.
The Titans watched Manning move the Colts 90 yards on the opening possession, ending it with a nifty 55-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Addai, who lined up as a receiver. That made it 7-0 with 9:12 to go in the first quarter.
Things only got worse for Tennessee.
The Titans nearly lost a fumble on their first play and Indy fans wanted intentional grounding called on the second. After punting, Tennessee didn’t touch the ball again for more than 13 minutes.
Adam Vinatieri connected on two short field goals to make it 13-0 and his third, a 38-yarder late in the first half, gave Indy a 16-0 lead and sealed Tennessee’s fate.
Tennessee had only one real scoring chance, but Rob Bironas pushed a 48-yard field goal try to the right.
And the Colts wrote a perfect ending to a perfect second-half comeback.
“They’re all special,” said Dungy, who was photographed with his family at game’s end. “But we really wanted to get that 12th win. It was a great way to end this season at home.”
NOTES: Dungy said not to read anything into the photo op although he still intends to ponder retirement when this season ends. ... For the first time since 2003, the Colts had more punts in a season than touchdowns. ... Bironas’ miss ended a stretch of 12 straight field goals, dating to Nov. 9. ... The Colts allowed only six touchdowns through the air this season, the fewest ever in a 16-game NFL season. ... Titans linebacker Josh Stamer hurt his groin. ... Titans third-string quarterback Chris Simms played for the first time in 26 months in the fourth quarter.