NASHVILLE, Tenn. — So much for the worst slump of Peyton Manning’s career.
Manning threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, and the Indianapolis Colts snapped their three-game skid by beating the Tennessee Titans 30-28 on Thursday night to stay just a half-game back in the AFC South.
“Hopefully we can sort of build off this win,” Manning said. “Nobody likes losing three in a row.”
The four-time NFL MVP put his atypical struggles behind him with a crisp performance against a defense that hasn’t intercepted a pass in 14 straight quarters. He completed 25 of 35 passes in his 63rd 300-yard game, tying Dan Marino for tops on the career list.
Back where he starred in college at the University of Tennessee, Manning nearly had a third touchdown pass but rookie receiver Blair White broke up a pass intended for Reggie Wayne in the end zone.
“I was throwing to Reggie. I can assure you I was throwing to Reggie,” Manning said. “But like I said, that’s part of the learning process.”
The Colts (7-6) haven’t lost four straight since 2001 when their five-game slide prompted Jim Mora’s famous rant about the playoffs. Now the only NFL team to reach the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons is back on track and will defend its AFC South title if it wins out.
“I think we’re in a four-game playoffs and this was a playoff game tonight,” Manning said.
Tennessee (5-8) has lost six straight to drop 2½ games behind Jacksonville (7-5) in the division with three to play. The Titans can blame themselves for mistakes that led to each of the Colts’ first three touchdowns, including two defensive penalties on third-and-goal and a high snap over the punter’s head.
The Titans did break out of their scoring slump, ending a 14-quarter drought without an offensive touchdown when Chris Johnson finished off a 55-yard drive with a 1-yard run with 49 seconds left in the first half.
Tennessee closed to 27-21 when Kerry Collins tossed his second TD pass of the night, a 4-yarder to Bo Scaife with 7:59 left in the game. The defense forced the Colts to go three-and-out, and the momentum seemed to swing to the Titans for the first time.
But Tennessee went three-and-out, the fans booed when coach Jeff Fisher decided to punt on fourth-and-1.
Manning made them pay with a short pass to Pierre Garcon, and he shook off Jason McCourty and Chris Hope while safety Michael Griffin whiffed as the receiver slipped up the right sideline for a 43-yard play. Adam Vinatieri kicked his third field goal, a 47-yarder that made it 30-21 with 2:55 left.
The Titans used up every second trying to rally. Collins found Scaife again for a 2-yard TD pass as time expired, and Rob Bironas kicked the extra point for the final margin.
“It was good,” Fisher said. “It just happened too late.”
Collins finished with 244 yards passing and three TDs, giving him 200 for his career. Johnson also ran for 111 yards.
But it was Manning who really got back on track, putting the Colts up 21-7 at halftime with TD passes of 1 and 19 yards to Garcon after tossing a career-worst 11 interceptions during Indianapolis’ slide. The first TD pass was his 25th on the year, becoming the first quarterback to reach the mark in 13 consecutive seasons.
Javarris James also scored on a 1-yard TD run, giving the rookie his sixth this season — best in the NFL.
Tennessee started Kenny Britt for the first time since he strained his right hamstring on Halloween, sitting Randy Moss. Collins connected with Britt twice for 23 yards. But Collins tossed a screen to Britt to open the second quarter, and Dwight Freeney hit him, knocking the ball loose. Tyjuan Hagler recovered the ball at the sideline for the Colts.
Moss finished the game without a reception.