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Week 14: Can Manning Rebound Against Titans?

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning reacts after throwing an interception against the Dallas Cowboys in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010. Dallas won in overtime 38-35.
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning reacts after throwing an interception against the Dallas Cowboys in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010. Dallas won in overtime 38-35.
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Even though Peyton Manning has 24 touchdown passes this season (and also holds the record for most seasons with at least 25 touchdown passes with 12) and is the NFL's MVP four times over, a jaw-dropping 11 interceptions over the past three games have shown even he is a mere mortal.

This is a first for Manning in his 12 year career. Along with back-to-back four-interception games, he's become the first quarterback with three or more interceptions in three consecutive games since Aaron Brooks in 2001.

Colts fans and NFL fans in general have been spoiled by Manning's aerial feats for over a decade. It's inevitable a player, no matter the sport or the position, will eventually face a dramatic slide in numbers and performance.

Sunday made for Manning's worst showing, at home against a re-energized Dallas Cowboys (5-7) team that, like the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots before them, had figured out the Colts' are a one-trick pony.

When the ball is being thrown 48, 52, and 48 times a game without an adequate rushing attack (running back Joseph Addai is still out with a neck injury), the Colts' offense becomes painfully predictable. Their rushing offense ranks last in the league at 79 yards per game and an average of 3.5 yards per carry.

According to the Bleacher Report, Manning is on pace to shatter New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees' single season completions record (440 in 2007) with a projected 471 completions.

Manning has taken full responsibility for the team's recent struggles although he managed to keep his trademark deadpan humor, "It isn't good when you're having to ask which one is it," he joked during the past-game news conference after the team's loss to Dallas, "I don't make any excuses. I'm continuing to throw, I'll keep throwing. I hope I throw it to our guys."

Both the Colts and Manning need to figure out their offensive woes quickly, on a short week before facing the Tennessee Titans (5-7) tonight.

There's quiet comfort the Colts can take into tonight's game. If there's a division opponent in more trouble, it's Tennessee. What began as a promising season has turned into a nightmare with a dismal 5-7 record, marked by the inability to turn wide receiver Randy Moss into something other than Most Valuable Decoy, the beating cornerback Cortland Finnegan took from Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson and quarterback Vince Young's public falling out with head coach Jeff Fisher.

With Young on injured reserve (and persona-non-grata to Fisher), backup Kerry Collins with start tonight's game, although he'll be throwing with an injured middle finger. The Titans also haven't scored a touchdown since a punt return TD against the Washington Redskins. That was on November 21 and 13 quarters ago.

If Manning can exploit Tennessee's defensive weaknesses (and stay in the pocket instead of reacting too quickly and throwing those interceptions) and Indianapolis defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can win their one-on-one match-ups, allowing the Colts to drop seven into coverage the Colts can keep pace with Jacksonville for 1st place in the AFC South.

If they can't win tonight' crucial game, they face the real possibility of missing the playoffs this year; something that hasn't happened since 2001.