- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts have perfected the formula of being both undefeated and heart-stopping.

Sunday’s rally from a 17-0 deficit at Houston to win 35-27 made the Colts the first team to win five games in a row in which they trailed in the fourth quarter. As good as cinch Hall of Famer Manning has been during the first 45 minutes (99.0 rating), he has been brilliant in the fourth quarter (116.4). His 27 completions against the Texans moved him into third place all-time in that category.

The Colts, who had won a lone division title during the 20 seasons before they drafted Manning first overall in 1998, clinched their seventh AFC South crown Sunday as they moved to 11-0 and the Jaguars lost to the 49ers. Since the playoffs were expanded in 1990, only three other teams have wrapped up a division so early.

If the Colts top Tennessee this week to tie the New England Patriots’ record of 21 straight regular-season victories and then beat Denver and Jacksonville the next three weeks, they’ll seal home-field advantage by Christmas.

Rookie coach Jim Caldwell would then have to decide whether to try to match the 2007 Patriots’ 16-0 mark or rest Manning (who has never missed a game) and the rest of the regulars against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

TENNESSEE TITANS

Jeff Fisher didn’t want to bench struggling veteran quarterback Kerry Collins for Vince Young when Tennessee was 0-6 in October. After all, Collins had guided the Titans to a 13-3 record in 2008. But a 59-0 whipping by New England finally forced the switch, and the Titans haven’t lost since. On Sunday, Young drove Tennessee 99 yards — converting three fourth downs on the way — and hit rookie Kenny Britt for the 10-yard touchdown as time expired to beat NFC West-leading Arizona 20-17. At 5-6, Tennessee is amazingly a game out of a playoff spot, and Young seems set as the quarterback for the long-term, playoffs or not.

FIVE TRENDS FROM WEEK 12

UP: On a day ace runner Adrian Peterson was ailing, Minnesota led Chicago 24-7 at halftime and cruised to a 36-10 victory to move to 10-1. The defense recorded four sacks and three turnovers. Quarterback Brett Favre, having his best year at 40, became the first player with 500 touchdowns (he has 488 passing).

DOWN: John Fox took over a 1-15 Carolina team in 2002 and went 7-9. The next year, the Panthers lost the Super Bowl in the final seconds. But Fox is .500 since and 4-7 this year. Sunday’s 17-6 loss to the Jets was Carolina’s third straight to a losing team. A brutal schedule in Week 14-17 could cost Fox his job.

UP: Sure, the visiting Steelers were down to their untested third-string quarterback, but Sunday night’s 20-17 overtime victory was still huge for Baltimore (6-5), which had lost five of seven and was minus Pro Bowl pass-rusher Terrell Suggs. His replacement, rookie Paul Kruger, made the game-changing interception in overtime.

DOWN: After crushing Oakland 44-7 on Oct. 11, the Giants were 5-0. Now, they’re 6-5 only because they managed to beat visiting Atlanta in overtime on Nov. 22. Outscored by an average of 32-17 in those defeats, New York faces three straight NFC East foes, perhaps without its offensive and defensive leaders.

UP: He’s still a shadow of his old MVP self, but LaDainian Tomlinson scored twice in Sunday’s rout of Kansas City to help San Diego (8-3) win its sixth straight game and keep pace with Cincinnati for a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. With 35 multiple rushing-touchdown games, Tomlinson trails only Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith (36).

NEXT MAN UP

List of big injuries from Week 12:

NT Shaun Rogers (leg), Cleveland: The Browns’ horrible season got worse with the loss of the massive three-time Pro Bowl pick to a season-ending, lower left leg injury against the Bengals. Rogers’ replacement is second-year man Ahtyba Rubin.

QB Eli Manning (foot), N.Y. Giants: One of the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII heroes has been bothered by plantar fasciitis in his right foot since Week 4, but now he reportedly has a stress reaction that could become a season-ending stress fracture. Former Houston starter David Carr is Manning’s backup.

WR DeSean Jackson (concussion), Philadelphia: The second-year receiver suffered a concussion when he was smacked by Washington’s London Fletcher on Sunday. Given that the Eagles have lost top back Brian Westbrook to a pair of concussions, they might be extra careful with their most dangerous weapon.

QB Matt Ryan (toe), Atlanta: The Falcons’ second-year quarterback injured his right big toe during the first series of Sunday’s 20-17 escape of lowly Tampa Bay. Chris Redman was solid in relief of Ryan, who will miss at least this week’s game.

RB Michael Turner (ankle), Atlanta: The heartbeat of the Falcons’ offense returned against the Bucs after sitting out the previous week with a bad right ankle, only to reinjure it during the third quarter. This one’s a high-ankle sprain that could keep Turner out a while. Jerious Norwood is next in line.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat about the Week 12 games:

287

Consecutive regular-season games for Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre, tying the NFL record for a position player held by former Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall. Favre can break the record Sunday at Arizona.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 12 puts him in the spotlight for next week:

GARY KUBIAK

When Houston closed 2008 with a 5-1 sprint to finish 8-8, the Texans became a chic offseason pick to be a playoff team in 2009. That idea was still looking pretty smart when Houston beat Cincinnati, San Francisco and Buffalo consecutively for its first winning first half of a season. But the Texans failed to hold leads in each of the past three weeks, falling to AFC South rivals Indianapolis (twice) and Tennessee. Sunday’s 35-27 loss to the Colts was the worst. The host Texans led 17-0 late in the second quarter before being outscored 35-3 over the next 35 minutes. Suddenly, Houston (5-6) is in the division cellar.

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