21 catches for Marshall but still no losses for Colts, Saints

Denver's Brandon Marshall caught just about everything Sunday.

Except the Indianapolis Colts.

On a day when Marshall set the NFL's single-game receptions record with 21, his performance wasn't enough to upend the undefeated Colts, whose 28-16 victory inched them to within three wins of a perfect regular season.

Indianapolis also clinched homefield advantage and set an NFL record by collecting its 22nd consecutive regular-season victory.

The New Orleans Saints, too, careened into the teens by matching the Colts' 13-0 record with a victory at Atlanta.

The stage is set for a spectacular and perhaps history-making stretch run, with the Saints and Colts each finishing their schedule against three very beatable opponents.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, who has said the Saints will "absolutely" go for 16-0 rather than resting players if/when homefield advantage is secured, doesn't seem like a man breathing easy. His team hosts Dallas on Saturday.

"It's only going to get harder from here on out," said Brees, whose Saints are coming off their two narrowest victories of the season, winning by three over Washington then Atlanta.

But, he added, "no matter what the situation, we always feel like we have an opportunity to win. Whether it's our offense, defense or special teams, somehow we're going to find a way to win the game."

It will be interesting to see if the Colts take their foot off the accelerator now that they have locked up homefield advantage. Talking to NBC on Sunday night, Colts president Bill Polian made it clear that 16-0 is not the focus.

"Our No. 1 priority ... is to get players who are playing hurt as healthy as they can be for the playoffs," he told the network. "So that will be our first consideration."

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy, now an NBC analyst, was asked how much Peyton Manning is likely to play Thursday at Jacksonville.

"Not very much, I don't think," he said. "I think you're going to see a ton of (rookie backup) Curtis Painter."

Like that of the Saints, the Colts' march to "perfection" is anything but perfect. Indianapolis was outgained by Denver, 357 yards to 312, and three Manning passes were picked off. Problem was, the Broncos couldn't cash in on their opportunities. They converted just 35 percent of their third downs (six of 17) and failed on all three of their fourth-down tries.

What was working for Denver were the hands of Marshall, who broke the 20-catch record of Terrell Owens by turning in a mind-boggling blackjack: 21 for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

"I went to my receiving coach (Adam Gase) before the game and I told him, 'I think this is going to be the best game I've ever played.' Just because of the environment, the situation of playing the Colts," Marshall told reporters. "I believe big players step up in big games, and this was a big game for us."

And a big game that the Broncos wound up losing.

"Whenever you accomplish something like (the receptions record), it definitely feels good," Marshall said. "But at the end of the day ... I would definitely trade in a couple of those catches for a win anytime."

A couple of them? Come on, Brandon, let's not get crazy.

On-a-Mission Valley

The Colts and Saints have the unblemished records, but the scariest team in the league right now is San Diego.

The Chargers, who picked up their eighth consecutive victory with a win at Dallas, have won 16 December games in a row, and came into Week 14 with the fewest giveaways and fewest penalty yards ... and the Colts' number.

They have recently, at least, knocking Indianapolis out of the playoffs the past two seasons.

Winning at Dallas was huge for the Chargers, who extended their AFC West lead over Denver to two games with three to play.

Sunday, San Diego hosts Cincinnati, and the Bengals will have a tough time keeping pace on the scoreboard. The Chargers have averaged 29.8 points during their winning streak. Since scoring 31 at Green Bay in Week 2, the Bengals have averaged 17.0 in road games.

This and that

Baltimore's Ray Rice crossed into 1,000-yard territory Sunday, but all those yards didn't come against Detroit.

It only looked that way.

Rice had 219 yards of all-purpose offense in a 48-3 thrashing of the Lions, a blowout in which the Ravens set team records with 548 yards and five rushing touchdowns.

  • Denver's Marshall got the record, but Houston receiver Andre Johnson had a phenomenal game too. He caught 11 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-7 victory over Seattle. Ten of those catches, and both touchdowns, came in the first half.
  • Tennessee's Chris Johnson rushed for 117 yards as the Titans crushed St. Louis, 47-7. That brings Johnson's league-leading rushing total to 1,626 yards, meaning he needs to average 124.6 over the final three games to finish with 2,000, something only five players have done.

Johnson has seven touchdowns of 50 or more yards this season.

The Titans' final three games are at home against Miami and San Diego, and at Seattle. Heading into Week 14, those teams, in order, were ranked 14th, 21st and 11th against the run.

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