Manning, Colts primed to make run after stopping skid

INDIANAPOLIS -- One victory has changed the Colts' entire perspective.

All those worries about Peyton Manning's interceptions have vanished. All those concerns about the team making the playoffs have eased a bit. And all those fans who panicked over a three-game losing streak have, well, calmed down.

Three more wins, and everything might be right with the Colts again.

"It determines what happens to us," coach Jim Caldwell said Friday, referring to this closing stretch. "It's kind of like when you were a youngster going out on the basketball court and used to play a game called make-it, take-it. Whoever won stayed on the court. That is kind of where we are."

At least Indianapolis is still playing for a playoff spot.

The Colts (7-6) went to Tennessee reeling from their longest losing streak since 2002 and with seemingly everybody trying to figure out what was wrong with Manning, the NFL's only four-time MVP.

Turns out, not a thing.

After throwing a career-high 11 interceptions over the previous three games, Manning returned to old stomping grounds Thursday night and reverted to his traditional form by going 25-of-35 passing for 319 yards and two touchdowns with no picks.

The victory, and the performance, certainly created a lighter atmosphere around the locker room and especially with Manning, who joked afterward that he had been on an 8½-year hitting streak.

Still, Manning wasn't satisfied.

"This is one game," he said. "This reminds me of high school. You have to win each game to advance. This was kind of a playoff-type game and approach."

If the defending AFC champs are going to have a ninth consecutive season with 10 wins and a playoff appearance, they still have to win three more games: at home against AFC South leader Jacksonville, at Oakland on Christmas weekend and the rematch against Tennessee in the regular-season finale.

Sweep all three, and the Colts will win a seventh division crown in the last eight years and host a playoff game.

Thursday night's game provided a blueprint for how the Colts can win:

» For the first time in three weeks, the defense forced a turnover. Actually, it was two turnovers.

» For the second time since Oct. 17, Manning threw fewer than 40 passes.

» And for the first time since Oct. 10, the Colts ran the ball more than 30 times in a game.

Indianapolis has lacked balance all season, and if it can get it together now, who knows what might happen?

"It is the time of the year when somebody has to get hot and make a run at it, and that's what we are trying to do, trying to put a string together," Caldwell said.

The Colts now have three extra days to prepare for the Jaguars (7-5) and will have a chance to watch each of its next two opponents, Jacksonville and Oakland, go head to head Sunday.

The break also will give the banged-up Colts some extra time to heal.

For more on the Indianapolis Colts, check out the latest from our bloggers.

Top running back Joseph Addai has missed seven consecutive games with a nerve injury in his left shoulder, and wide receiver Austin Collie has played in only one quarter over the last five games because of a concussion. On Thursday night, the Colts lost left tackle Charlie Johnson with a shoulder injury and guard Jamey Richard with a hip injury, finishing the game with just five healthy offensive linemen.

"We hopefully will be able to get some guys on the mend," Caldwell said. "Now that it doesn't require a seven-day turnaround to get them back out there, hopefully we won't have any guys miss this next game that played in this ballgame. Hopefully, we can go into the (next) game with a little bit of a pep in our step."

And the revived Colts just might start playing like their old selves.

"What we have to do is make certain we focus in on the little things: the basic fundamentals, catching the ball, throwing the ball, blocking, tackling, just the basic fundamentals," Caldwell said. "That will get us to the point where we are doing everything consistent."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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