NASHVILLE — Philip Rivers threw for 308 yards and a touchdown, and Nyheim Hines scored twice as the Indianapolis Colts beat the Tennessee Titans 34-17 Thursday night to grab the head-to-head edge atop the AFC South.
The Colts (6-3) will host the rematch in Indianapolis on Nov. 29 after helping coach Frank Reich improve to 4-1 against Titans coach Mike Vrabel. Indianapolis is 14-5 at Nissan Stadium.
“We get a huge special teams touchdown and then offensively, shoot, we were rolling pretty good all day,” Rivers said. “We were very balanced, kind of got in a rhythm with the no-huddle. This was a huge road division win.”
Indianapolis came in with the NFL’s best defence in terms of fewest yards allowed. The Colts smothered a Tennessee offence that had been averaging 384.6 yards a game, 10th-best in the NFL, and ranked seventh averaging 29 points a game. E.J. Speed also blocked a punt that T.J. Carrie returned 6 yards for a TD late in the third quarter.
The Colts outgained Tennessee 430-294, though Derrick Henry ran for 103 yards.
The Titans (6-3) lost for the third time in four games as they head into the toughest stretch of their season with Indianapolis the first of four straight opponents currently with winning records.
Tennessee led 17-13 at halftime. Indianapolis took advantage of the Titans’ special teams woes to score twice in the third quarter for a 27-17 lead.
The Titans went with a third different punter in three games, promoting Trevor Daniel after signing him to the practice squad last weekend. Daniel’s first punt went 17 yards, and Hines, celebrating his 24th birthday, scored four plays later on a 2-yard TD run. The Titans gave Daniel no help on his second, with Speed easily breaking through for the block.
Stephen Gostkowski then missed a 44-yard field goal wide right early in the fourth.
“We’re going to have to evaluate everything that we do,” Vrabel said.
The Colts padded their lead to 34-17 with backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett capping the next drive with a 2-yard TD run with 9:21 left.
“We finished the way we needed to finish,” Reich said.
Indianapolis’ final margin would’ve been larger, but the Colts settled for a 43-yard field goal at the end of the first half and the Titans forced a turnover on downs on Indianapolis’ opening drive of the third.
RIVERS PASSES MARINO
Rivers came in needing only 4 yards passing to move by Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the fifth-most in NFL history. He passed Marino on the Colts’ first play from scrimmage with an 11-yard pass to rookie Jonathan Taylor. Rivers now has 61,666 yards for his career. He also made his 233rd consecutive start and is one away from tying Eli Manning for the 10th-longest streak in league history.
The Colts used a lot of no-huddle to put Rivers in control of the offence and take advantage of a struggling Titans defence.
“He’s just really good in that mode,” Reich said. “Very accurate, good checks in the run game, he was really in it tonight.”
Titans wide receiver Corey Davis played a day after his older brother, Titus, died at age 27 from a rare form of kidney cancer. Davis did not practice Wednesday hours after his brother died. He was crying before kickoff, then finished with a team-high five catches for 67 yards.
“I’m proud of Corey and proud of his ability to come out here,” Vrabel said. “Again, our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and I’m proud of his teammates for supporting him the way that they did.”
Colts cornerback Xavier Rhodes went down on the second play from scrimmage. He walked off on his own and was back before the first quarter ended. Reich said cornerback Kenny Moore II will have an MRI on his ribs Friday.
Titans centre Ben Jones hurt a knee but returned. Titans left guard Rodger Saffold limped to the sideline late in the second quarter with an injured ankle, but he returned. Defensive lineman Larrell Murchison hurt his back.
Colts host Green Bay on Nov. 22.
Titans visit Baltimore on Nov. 22.
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press