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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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
12/12 15:03:50 ET
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