INDIANAPOLIS — It was the type of performance only a Titan could love.
The Tennessee Titans used their typical formula of relying on the defense and getting just enough offense to defeat the Indianapolis Colts 16-10 and push their way into the AFC playoffs in the process.
With the victory, the Titans eliminated the Cleveland Browns and set themselves up for a Sunday date with the San Diego Chargers at 3:30 p.m. Central time.
In usual Titans fashion, Tennessee’s victory came not without struggle Sunday night, as the Titans needed three Rob Bironas field goals in the second half to edge out a Colts team that littered its lineup with backups over the final two-plus periods.
For a 10-6 Titans team that had not tasted the postseason since 2003, they will take the victory and accompanying playoff bid anyway it comes.
“When the dust all settles we’re in. We had three tough weeks a few weeks ago, but we were able to bounce back, and overcome it. There’s no asterisk by this. We’re in,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
The Titans managed to win the game in gritty fashion, losing starting quarterback Vince Young in the third quarter and getting a solid effort from backup Kerry Collins, who engineered the three Bironas field goal drives.
Collins, who celebrated his 35th birthday Sunday, came off the bench and completed 10 of 13 throws for 106 yards in relief of Young, who reinjured the right quadriceps muscle that kept him out of a game in Houston in October.
“It was a great birthday present,” Collins said. “I am proud of these guys, and proud of the whole team. We have won ugly a couple of times, but we won.”
Winning ugly has been a theme for the Titans at various points this season, as Sunday, they trailed 10-7 in the third quarter to a Colts team that was at that point treating the game like a preseason contest.
The Colts had taken that lead after a LenDale White fumble was recovered by ex-Titan Rocky Boiman at the Tennessee 30.
From there, critical penalties on Michael Griffin and David Thornton set up first-and-goal. Two plays later, backup quarterback Jim Sorgi hit Craphonso Thorpe with a 7-yard touchdown pass that gave Indy a 10-7 lead and put the Titans’ playoff hopes in peril.
Enter Collins and Bironas, who connected on a 40-yard field goal to tie the game, then knocked through a 54-yarder that gave Tennessee the lead with 7:33 to play in the fourth quarter.
By the time Bironas had made a 33-yard kick with 2:56 to play, the Titans were on their way to the playoffs and rematch with the Chargers, whom they lost to at LP Field back on Dec. 3.
“I’ve been here for three years and this is the first time we’ve been there. We knew what we needed to do to get it done,” Bironas said.
The Titans were perhaps most impressive early in the game, scoring on their first series to take a quick 7-0 lead, then getting a turnover to thwart a Colts drive on the ensuing defensive series.
Tennessee used the rushing game to churn out a textbook drive that chewed 6:19 off the game clock, with LenDale White rushing five times for 36 yards and Chris Brown capping the march with an 8-yard touchdown run.
Along the way, quarterback Vince Young hit 4 of 4 passes for 31 yards, including a 10-yard pass to Justin Gage that put the ball at the Colts 8 yard line just before Brown’s touchdown run.
“That was what we were hoping for. We wanted to go down and get a quick score, using the running game and the short passes. It was probably one of our biggest drives of the year,” Fisher said.
On the Colts first possession, Peyton Manning marched his team downfield, completing 8 of 9 passes for 58 yards, but a 6-yard completion to Reggie Wayne resulted in a forced fumble by rookie safety Michael Griffin that David Thornton recovered at the Titans’ 20 to snuff out the drive.
The Colts scored on a 37-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with 10:41 to play in the half, the final series for Manning, who completed 14 of 16 passes for 95 yards before giving way to backup Jim Sorgi.
While some might say the Colts, resting key players in preparation for their own playoff contest, allowed the Titans in, Tennessee was offering no apologies for accepting a postseason invitation.
“It definitely wasn’t pretty, but that’s just how we’ve fought all year,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
The focus this week won’t be on how the Titans got to the postseason, but how they survive.
“Records don’t matter now. Everybody is 0-0,” guard Benji Olson said.