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Colts, Browns battling to stay in AFC playoff race

(Sports Network) - A pair of teams fighting to stay in the AFC playoff hunt will meet up in Week 15, as the Indianapolis Colts travel to Cleveland to face the Browns on Sunday.

The Colts had their four-game winning streak snapped a week ago when they fell to the Tennessee Titans, 27-17, for the second time this season. Peyton Manning, who was playing in Tennessee for the first time since his college days, completed 26-of-42 passes for 297 yards and one touchdown. Marvin Harrison, who grabbed nine passes for 76 yards, set the franchise record for career receptions with his first catch of the game. But Colts head coach Tony Dungy was still disappointed in the outcome of the game, which knocked the Colts out of first place in the AFC South.

"It was kind of like we played six or seven weeks ago," Dungy said. "We couldn't stop them in the first half. We turned the ball over. We just did things we shouldn't do. Our special teams kind of got handled. So, it just wasn't a good performance in a big game.

"This is crunch time. We have three games left and we need to play our best from here on out."

The Brownsí prayers were answered last week when Tim Couch's 50-yard desperation "Hail Mary" pass with no time left on the clock was caught by WR Quincy Morgan in the end zone to give Cleveland a 21-20 victory over in Jacksonville.

"That's what makes this game so amazing," said Morgan. "Any play can occur on any given Sunday."

Cleveland trails AFC North leader Pittsburgh by a half game entering Week 15.

SERIES HISTORY: The Browns own a 13-8 lead in the series history, but the Colts have won three of the last four meetings, including a 29-28 victory in December 1999 when Edgerrin James rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns.

Neither Dungy nor Browns head coach Butch Davis has ever faced the other team.

This week, the Colts could have the road team advantage, as the Browns have only won two their six home games this season.

COLTS OFFENSE VS. BROWNS DEFENSE

Manning suffered a minor knee injury in the loss to Tennessee and it forced him to spend some time receiving treatment this week. However, the sturdy signal-caller said the injury will not prevent him from doing anything in Sunday's showdown with the Browns.

"Any time you come in and get four rounds of treatment on a Tuesday, you'd rather not have to do that," Manning said. "It's basically like you've got a balloon on your knee. It's more of an annoyance than anything else.

"I'm going to practice and try to control the swelling...but it's not going to prevent me from doing anything. We caught it early, and just kind of controlled it."

That's good news because the Colts' offense depends on the arm of Manning. The Colts throw for an average of 252.8 yards per game (fourth in the NFL). His primary target has been Harrison, who is on pace to set some receiving records this season. In fact, Harrison, who already has 118 catches on the year, is just six away from breaking the NFL single-season record set by Detroit's Herman Moore in 1995. However, last week Harrison, who is usually automatic, dropped a pass near the end zone. If he scored on the play, it would have brought the Colts to within four points with five minutes to play in the third quarter.

"Totally my fault," Harrison said of the dropped pass. "You've got to catch the ball before you run. That's elementary. The main thing I've got to focus on is correcting the mistakes and come up with the easy plays you normally make, that anyone could make. A fourth-grader could make that [catch]."

Last week, the Colts' running game, which is averaging 95.5 yards per contest (27th in the NFL) continued to struggle. James rushed for just 70 yards on 18 carries, and backup James Mungro rushed four times for 12 yards and a score. In order for the Colts' offense to be successful it needs a strong effort from the running game. Not only would that free up the receivers, but it would also give Manning more time in the pocket. However, the offensive line has done a very good job at protecting their leader, as Manning has been sacked just 20 times thus far.

While the emphasis was on the final play of the game, Cleveland's Davis was more impressed with the play of his defense in the thrilling victory over the Jaguars.

"Wow...yeah, just another day at the office," Davis quipped. "I donít really know what to tell you other than when youíve coached 30 years you think youíve just about seen everything. Obviously, you havenít.

"Certainly, in light of what happened and how we won the game, Quincy Morgan making an unbelievable play at the end of the game, the real story was our defense. The defense, I really like that they kept us in the game. They overcame bad field position. They overcame some of the turnovers. They went out with sudden change and turned the tide, made them go three-and-out and didnít allow [Jacksonville] to put points on the board. "

The Browns enter Sunday's contest with a very respectable defense. They are allowing just 20.2 points per game (10th in the league) and they have been very good against the pass, allowing an average of just 203.1 yards per game.

One of the reasons for the defensive turnaround has been the play of middle linebacker Earl Holmes, who leads the team with 115 tackles. Holmes made 15 stops a week ago against Jacksonville. While his numbers have improved as the season goes on, he gives the credit to the Browns' defensive line.

"It's getting near playoff time," Holmes said. "Guys up front are playing very well and giving me a chance to scrape sideline to sideline. It's a matter of getting to the ball.

"I'm not going to sit here and say I had a fast start. But after the third game I started to get in my rhythm. I started to do my job and get to the ball and play my game."

BROWNS OFFENSE VS. COLTS DEFENSE

Couch has not enjoyed playing at home this season, where the Browns are just 2-4. The Browns are 5-2 away from home and Couch has thrown 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the road. In four games at home, he has four touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

But Couch isn't worried about his home record, he's worried about his team's record, and a loss this week would virtually eliminate the Browns from playoff contention.

"Whatever it takes to play better," said Couch. "I just want to come out relaxed and be myself. I donít want to worry about not playing well in the past at home. I want to come out, go through the reads, and get the ball to the open guy.

"The reason I was brought here as the No. 1 pick is to win these types of games. [This is the biggest game of my career] because thereís so much riding on this game and because of how bad this team needs to go out and get a win."

Couch could face some extra pressure this week because his left tackle Ross Verba has missed practice because of the flu. While he is expected to play, he could still be feeling the effects of the sickness, and that doesn't bode well because he'll line up across from Colts RDE Dwight Freeney, who leads the team with nine sacks and has forced seven fumbles.

The Browns' greatest asset lately has been the play of rookie running back William Green. Green, who was named NFL rookie of the week for the second time in three weeks for his performance in the Jacksonville game, has turned into a legitimate threat. He rushed for 119 yards and a score against the Jags. He also caught four passes for another 25 yards.

"Will is running like a maniac," said RT Ryan Tucker. "As a line, we haven't done anything different to get him the yards. We have kept doing the same things over and over. He's growing. He's starting to see how we're blocking. I am really happy to be blocking for this kid. He's helping us out. I am excited to be playing with this young man."

The Colts have played better defensively as of late. Dungy's Cover-2 scheme has led the Colts to some impressive numbers, as the defense allows just 17.9 points per game (third in the NFL) and 168.2 passing yards per contest (second-best in the league). Colts president Bill Polian attributes the turnaround to Dungy's presence.

"He's brought a sense of professionalism and experience to the job, so there was no break-in period per se," said Polian. "Jim Mora really had done a good job of establishing professionalism and discipline, which we didn't have before Jim arrived. So Tony just sort of carried that through. There was a seamless transition, largely due to Tony's demeanor and professionalism, his concentration on fundamentals.

"And, obviously, a defensive system that's very much more functional for this group than the previous one. It's very much more suited to the talent. They've embraced it and adopted it. We really have gotten better every week until last week."

12/12 15:03:50 ET


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