Manning, Garcon help keep Colts' playoff hopes alive

Posted Dec. 10, 2010 @ 10:17 a.m.
Posted By Arthur Arkush

With an urgent 30-28 victory over their AFC South rival Titans in Nashville on Thursday night, Peyton Manning and the Colts put their longest losing streak since 2002 and the worst slump of Manning's career in the rearview mirror. The victory knocked the Titans out of the postseason picture and kept Indianapolis in control of its playoff destiny heading into the momentous Week 15 showdown with the division-leading Jaguars.

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The Colts are always going to sink or swim with Manning; we're just not used to seeing the former. But during the three-game losing streak leading up to Thursday, Manning had thrown 11 interceptions, including four pick-sixes. Considering the Colts' defense forced zero turnovers of its own during the skid, it's a miracle that the team even kept it close in two of the three defeats.

On Thursday night, however, Manning recaptured his MVP swagger. He threw for 319 yards and pair of scores, with oft-criticized WR Pierre Garcon on the receiving end of both TD passes. Most importantly, Manning did not throw an interception and didn't appear to be pressing.

While he looked tentative and unsure of himself during the slump, Manning was decisive and confident with his decision making on Thursday. The offensive line did a better job holding up in pass protection, in addition to creating some room to run for Donald Brown and Javarris James for the first time in a month. Don't let the mediocre rushing stats mislead you — the running game was a factor in keeping the Titans' defense honest. It was also effective in converting some huge first downs, including a monster 4th-and-4 conversion by James on a draw play late in the third quarter that picked up 11 yards and led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal.

The gutsy performance of Garcon helped Manning immensely. Garcon's two TDs allowed the Colts to jump out to a big first-half lead, but his 43-yard reception late in the fourth quarter was the turning point in the game. On 2nd-and-10 with 3:37 remaining and the Colts preserving a 27-21 lead, Garcon caught a short pass from Manning at the Colts' 30-yard line, and with a great second effort, broke attempted tackles by Jason McCourty and Chris Hope and sprinted down the sideline. The long gain allowed the Colts to milk more time off of the clock before Vinatieri booted the 47-yard field goal that put the game out of reach.

Garcon has shown flashes of breaking out over the past couple weeks, but Thursday was undoubtedly his best performance of the season and perhaps the defining moment in his young career. He has taken a lot of heat this season for his inconsistency and mental lapses, but every one of his six catches on Thursday came at a big moment, helping the Colts earn a crucial victory. Garcon wore his emotions on his sleeve and his inspired performance rubbed off on his teammates.

Next week, the Jaguars will present a more difficult challenge than the Titans, who shot themselves in the foot much of the evening, but a performance like this is a major confidence booster for a Colts team that has had little to be excited about for the last month. And the timing couldn't be better, as Indy was on the verge of a total collapse. There is no question the Colts are still on life support, and this win will be inconsequential if they falter at all over the next three weeks, but they proved on Thursday that they are not going down without a fight.