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Colts’ defense strong as win streak reaches 21

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The Colts’ defense will probably always be in Peyton Manning’s shadow.

Indianapolis defenders are OK with that, as long as they keep winning.

The Colts’ less-heralded defense helped Indianapolis to tie New England’s NFL record of 21 consecutive regular-season wins with a 27-17 win over Tennessee on Sunday.

The Colts can break the record next Sunday against Denver.

“If we get the attention and everybody gives us our props, it’s OK,” defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “If we don’t, we can use that, too. If we sneak up on everybody, that’s fine, as long as we win the big one at the end of the year.”

Indianapolis (12-0) entered the game against Tennessee ranked third in the NFL in fewest points allowed, surrendering just 16.7 per game. Although the Colts rank in the lower half of the league in yards allowed per game, they have given up more than 20 points just three times this season.

Sure, Manning’s 270-yard effort against the Titans was important, but so were two fourth-down stops by the defense in the second half.

The Colts led 24-10 late in the third quarter when Vince Young drove the Titans down to the 2 and Titans coach Jeff Fisher elected to go for it on fourth down. Kenny Britt caught Young’s lob into the left side of the end zone, but Jerraud Powers pushed him out before he landed, forcing a turnover on downs.

Tennessee’s defense held the Colts, and the Titans (5-7) got the ball back early in the fourth quarter and drove to the Colts’ 14 for a fourth-and-5. This time, Young rolled right, but his pass to Lavelle Hawkins was high and wide right.

“They were big stops,” Colts linebacker Clint Session said. “We’ve got a real aggressive defense. Everybody wants to make the play.”

Young gave the Colts credit.

“We didn’t finish,” he said. “Have to respect their defense. We didn’t finish, and we have to do that.”

The Colts famously stopped New England on a fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter earlier this season before Manning threw the game-winning touchdown to Reggie Wayne in a 35-34 victory on Nov. 15. That, among other plays, has given the Colts confidence in challenging circumstances.

“I think because we’ve been in that situation a few times, we just play with a whole bunch of poise,” Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. “Guys don’t press.”

The Colts limited Chris Johnson, the league’s rushing leader, to 113 yards on 27 carries. Johnson had rushed for at least 125 yards in six consecutive games, tying an NFL record set by Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson.

“He’s a good player,” linebacker Clint Session said. “That’s a lot of respect to him. He’s going to get his, no matter whether his team wins or not. We’re kind of disappointed in that because we’ve got goals we set as a defense.”

Johnson, known for his game-breaking speed and long, highlight-reel runs, broke nothing longer than 11 yards.

“He’s going to get his yards, no question about that,” Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s a talented guy, but the good thing about it is we didn’t let him loose, he didn’t get one of those 85-yard runs against us. I think our guys got him running parallel to the line of scrimmage rather than north or south.”

Because the Colts have been solid under pressure on both sides of the ball, they’ve racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. On Sunday, they extended their NFL record of consecutive 12-win seasons to seven and tied the 1990s San Francisco 49ers for most wins in a decade (113).

The Colts gave much of the credit to their coach, who continues to extend the record for most wins to start a career.

“There’s nothing more to say, we are 12-0,” Session said. “Obviously, he is doing the right thing. Our record reflects a lot of what he is doing, what he is instilling in us. We are trying to keep things going.”

NOTES: Three Titans players were hurt during the game — safety Michael Griffin (shoulder), TE Jared Cook (concussion) and FB Ahmard Hall (ankle). … Colts WR Reggie Wayne caught four passes for 48 yards and now has 1,035 yards receiving. … Manning’s TD pass to Austin Collie extended his NFL record streak of consecutive 25-TD seasons to 12.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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