Colts complete charge into NFL play-offs

WHILE Cincinnati and the New York Giants battled to key division victories in the NFL on Sunday, Indianapolis remained unbeaten and clinched a play-off berth.

The Colts easily extended their unblemished record to 12-0 with a 35-3 victory over Tennessee.

Peyton Manning threw for 187 yards and touchdown passes to Marvin Harrison, Bryan Fletcher and Reggie Wayne as the Colts clinched their fourth consecutive play-off berth.

They became the fifth team to begin a season 12-0 and first since Denver in 1998. The Colts are four wins away from joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only teams to go unbeaten in the regular season.

Manning and Harrison combined for 56 yards and a 10-yard touchdown on Indianapolis’ opening drive. Harrison became the 12th receiver in NFL history to eclipse 12,000 yards on a 36-yard catch and recorded his 10th TD grab, becoming the first player with double-digit TD receptions in seven straight seasons.

Manning and Edgerrin James helped the Colts pull away in the second half. Manning’s third touchdown pass made him the first quarterback with eight consecutive 25-TD seasons. In his 93rd game, James rushed for 107 yards on 28 carries to eclipse the 9,000-yard plateau in his career. He became the third-fastest player to accomplish the feat, trailing only former Colt Eric Dickerson’s 82 games and Jim Brown’s 88.

Meanwhile, the NFL’s less-than-perfect sides continued to jockey for play-off position.

Longtime laughing stocks Cincinnati secured their first winning season since 1990 with a 38-31 victory over AFC North rivals Pittsburgh.

Carson Palmer threw for three first-half touchdowns, Rudi Johnson ran for two scores and the Bengals forced four turnovers as they stretched their lead over the Steelers to two games with four games left.

The Giants gained the inside track in the NFC East with a 17-10 victory over Dallas to edge ahead of the Cowboys atop the division.

Linebacker Antonio Pierce’s 12-yard fumble return for a touchdown proved to be the difference as the Giants moved a game ahead of the Cowboys in the division.

Carolina, sparked by a defence that shut down Michael Vick and the running of DeShaun Foster, earned a crucial 24-6 victory over NFC South rivals Atlanta.

The Panthers beat the Falcons for just the second time in the last 11 meetings while moving two games in front of them.

The Panthers lead the division, a game in front of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who beat New Orleans 10-3.

Chicago’s hard-hitting defence again proved a useful offensive weapon as the Bears won their eighth straight game, a 19-7 victory over battered Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.

Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher had momentum-changing interception returns, and Robbie Gould kicked four field goals for the Bears, who didn’t need an offensive touchdown to continue their march toward the post-season.

The Bears maintained their lead in the NFC North, while Minnesota continued their recent surge into play-off contention with a 21-16 victory over Detroit in another NFC North clash.

In Kansas City, Larry Johnson rushed for 90 of his 140 yards in the fourth quarter as the Chiefs beat bitter AFC West rivals Denver. The defeat sliced the Broncos’ division lead to one game over the Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers, who beat Oakland 34-10.

Two-time defending Super Bowl champions New England picked up a vital 16-3 victory over the New York Jets.

The Patriots defence kept the Jets in check all day, bouncing back from a loss at Kansas City last week to maintain a two-game lead over Miami in the AFC East Division. The Dolphins edged Buffalo 24-23.

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