Sunday, December 30, 2007 at 7:54pm

INDIANAPOLIS — It was the type of performance only a Titan could love.

The Tennessee Titans used their typical formula of relying on the defense and getting just enough offense to defeat the Indianapolis Colts 16-10 and push their way into the AFC playoffs in the process.

With the victory, the Titans eliminated the Cleveland Browns and set themselves up for a Sunday date with the San Diego Chargers at 3:30 p.m. Central time.

In usual Titans fashion, Tennessee’s victory came not without struggle Sunday night, as the Titans needed three Rob Bironas field goals in the second half to edge out a Colts team that littered its lineup with backups over the final two-plus periods.

For a 10-6 Titans team that had not tasted the postseason since 2003, they will take the victory and accompanying playoff bid anyway it comes.

“When the dust all settles we’re in. We had three tough weeks a few weeks ago, but we were able to bounce back, and overcome it. There’s no asterisk by this. We’re in,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.

The Titans managed to win the game in gritty fashion, losing starting quarterback Vince Young in the third quarter and getting a solid effort from backup Kerry Collins, who engineered the three Bironas field goal drives.

Collins, who celebrated his 35th birthday Sunday, came off the bench and completed 10 of 13 throws for 106 yards in relief of Young, who reinjured the right quadriceps muscle that kept him out of a game in Houston in October.

“It was a great birthday present,” Collins said. “I am proud of these guys, and proud of the whole team. We have won ugly a couple of times, but we won.”

Winning ugly has been a theme for the Titans at various points this season, as Sunday, they trailed 10-7 in the third quarter to a Colts team that was at that point treating the game like a preseason contest.

The Colts had taken that lead after a LenDale White fumble was recovered by ex-Titan Rocky Boiman at the Tennessee 30.

From there, critical penalties on Michael Griffin and David Thornton set up first-and-goal. Two plays later, backup quarterback Jim Sorgi hit Craphonso Thorpe with a 7-yard touchdown pass that gave Indy a 10-7 lead and put the Titans’ playoff hopes in peril.

Enter Collins and Bironas, who connected on a 40-yard field goal to tie the game, then knocked through a 54-yarder that gave Tennessee the lead with 7:33 to play in the fourth quarter.

By the time Bironas had made a 33-yard kick with 2:56 to play, the Titans were on their way to the playoffs and rematch with the Chargers, whom they lost to at LP Field back on Dec. 3.

“I’ve been here for three years and this is the first time we’ve been there. We knew what we needed to do to get it done,” Bironas said.

The Titans were perhaps most impressive early in the game, scoring on their first series to take a quick 7-0 lead, then getting a turnover to thwart a Colts drive on the ensuing defensive series.

Tennessee used the rushing game to churn out a textbook drive that chewed 6:19 off the game clock, with LenDale White rushing five times for 36 yards and Chris Brown capping the march with an 8-yard touchdown run.

Along the way, quarterback Vince Young hit 4 of 4 passes for 31 yards, including a 10-yard pass to Justin Gage that put the ball at the Colts 8 yard line just before Brown’s touchdown run.

“That was what we were hoping for. We wanted to go down and get a quick score, using the running game and the short passes. It was probably one of our biggest drives of the year,” Fisher said.

On the Colts first possession, Peyton Manning marched his team downfield, completing 8 of 9 passes for 58 yards, but a 6-yard completion to Reggie Wayne resulted in a forced fumble by rookie safety Michael Griffin that David Thornton recovered at the Titans’ 20 to snuff out the drive.

The Colts scored on a 37-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with 10:41 to play in the half, the final series for Manning, who completed 14 of 16 passes for 95 yards before giving way to backup Jim Sorgi.

While some might say the Colts, resting key players in preparation for their own playoff contest, allowed the Titans in, Tennessee was offering no apologies for accepting a postseason invitation.

“It definitely wasn’t pretty, but that’s just how we’ve fought all year,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said.

The focus this week won’t be on how the Titans got to the postseason, but how they survive.

“Records don’t matter now. Everybody is 0-0,” guard Benji Olson said.

Filed under: Sports
By: BADCOPS on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Excellent: Great job Fisher and guys and of all teams the Colts. I must say this was also done without PacRat.

By: arkay61 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Bironas saves the day...again.

By: Jagman on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Does Bud really need Vince?

By: serr8d on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Point: Peyton Manning left early. Vince Young left early. Our backup QB, Kerry Collins (happy 35th, graybeard!) is better than Jim Sorgi.If you haven't seen the YouTube video of Reid's hit on Chris Henry, I've got it up.Chris is one tough hombre, to return after that...

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Props to the Titans! Now, some payback is due out west!

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Titan1, I am happy for you and the Titans. The Titans gave away a couple of games this year so they deserved to have one given to them. I am not expecting to win in San Diego but I am going out to enjoy the sunshine anyway. Anytime the Titans break 8 and 8 is a good season.

By: caholt on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Another poor performance from the offense and the coaches. How many times can you call a run up the middle and expect to gain yards? I would also like to know why we couldn't score another touchdown in the fourth quarter. It seemed that as soon as we got close with Collins tossing pass after pass, without fail Norm Chow calls another run up the middle for no gain or a loss of yards. Having watched numerous ball teams who are also headed to the playoffs, if this is the best that we can do, then we probably won't make it past the Chargers.

By: NewYorker1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Oh my, look at the arms on No. 29. Is it just me, or is it getting extremely hot in here?

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Glad they made it. I dont expect much in SD, I suspect that TN will score the usual 13 pts and lose 24-13. But to make the playoffs 1 year removed from a 0-5 start says something about this team and coaching staff. Good job titans.

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

caholt, did you not see the first drive? If you can do better, then do it!