Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri (4) reacts with Matt Overton after Vinatieri kicked a 53-yard field goal during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
This recap is best if read while listening to this song from NFL Films.
The Colts came into Lucas Oil Stadium on this cold, foggy Indiana day with a chance to move to 9-4 and create some potential separation in the race for the two wild card spots in the playoffs. Early on, things did not look promising, but they mangaged to eke out another close one, 27-23
Does this sound familiar? “Luck, under pressure…incomplete.” In the first half, there were plays in which the Titans rushed four, and, as Greg Cowan pointed out, the Colts lineman still allowed two pass rushers to get free. Andrew Luck's protection in the first half was possibly the worst all season, and, in this writer’s opinion, the worst blocking since 1997. On some plays, Luck didn’t even drop back, but began to sprint for his life as soon as the ball was snapped.
Under duress throughout the first half, Luck managed to go just 9/19 for 123 yards, a touchdown to Reggie Wayne and 2 interceptions (one at the end of the half). He also had an interception returned for a touchdown that the fans, commentators, and everyone but the officials believed should have been overturned. Luck, scrambling for his life, was sacked from behind and tried to get a pass off after his knee was down. He threw the ball right into the hands of Tennessee Linebacker Will Witherspoon, a poor decision. Touchdown. Upheld. Tennessee led 17-7, and tacked on a field goal to push their half time lead to 13 points.
The consensus has been that Luck needed to play his best game for the Colts, who are playing well despite gaping holes in their roster from a talent standpoint, to have a chance to win. Once again, however, Luck had a tough day at the office, finishing the game 16/34 for 196 yards, 5.8 per completion, 1 TD, 2 INT and was sacked 4 times (but only once in the second half). He had seven completions in the second half of the game. Pressure, drops, questionable calls. It just didn’t look like his day.
Nevertheless, the defense came through, along with the special teams and a resurgent running game, to help the team win a surprisingly ugly 27-23 game. Pat McAfee should be at least considered for a game ball after averaging 53 yards (consistently – his longest was 54) on punts, putting two inside the 20 yard line including a spectacular punt inside the two, which would prove crucial to the outcome.
The Colts had started the second half with better protection, getting some great push in run blocking from A. Q. Shipley, who came in for the injured Samson Satele at center. They forced their way down the field 80- yards in 14 plays with Delone Carter putting the exclamation point on it with a touchdown. 20-14, Titans. Suddenly, it was a close game, and we all know about these Colts in close games.
The defense did their part afterward, forcing a brilliant three and out, including a nice play by none other than Cassius Vaughn to break up a pass for Nate Washington on third down. Luck and the offense, as they did last week against Detroit, followed up the long touchdown drive and three and out by the defense with a sputtering three and out of their own. McAfee came back out to punt and hit a beauty, 52 yards to the sideline. The best part of the play may have been watching the Colts gunners and long snapper as they looked for the ball, which was still in the air. It finally landed and bounced out of bounds at about the 1-yard line. The football-savvy crowd in Indianapolis roared to life, but the best was yet to come.
The Titans took the field again, leading 20-14 and tried a short pass from the 1-yard line to Nate Washington, but Cassius Vaughn was ready this time. He had safety help on his side, giving him the confidence to jump the route. Vaughn, who was having a rough game overall, backed off, and baited the quarterback into trying the short pass, then bolted hell-bent toward the receiver for a pick six. After the extra point, the Colts had the lead at 21-20, in a sequence that sent the 86th consecutive sellout crowd into a frenzy.
Then things got weird. On the next drive, the defense appeared to play well, possibly forcing three third down stops (that’s right) on a 16 play, 72-yard drive that devoured 10:08 of the game clock. On 3rd and 8 from the Tennessee 39, Jake Locker was sacked by Robert Mathis, along with Jerrell Freeman and Cory Redding (If three players could be credited, they probably would’ve been). In comes the punt team? Nope. Flag. Defensive holding on linebacker Moise Fokou, a questionable call, but sometimes it goes that way.
The Colts were not to be beaten by one possibly bad call, so they regrouped and stopped them again on 3rd and 5 from the 50-yard line with a beautiful play form Antoine Bethea – but wait. What? Pass interference. This time, the play could not have looked much cleaner. The officials didn’t see it the same way though, and penalties aren’t reviewed or challenged. Thus, Tennessee got the first down at the Indianapolis 40-yard line.
Still, not to be beaten by a couple questionable calls, Indianapolis held them to a field goal. 23-21, Titans.
The Colts offense managed a decent drive for a field goal to take the lead right back at 24-23 with 6:23 remaining. Vinatieri’s kick was a 53-yarder that could likely have gone in from much farther out. Then, after another clutch interception by Darius Butler, the special teams came through again with another Vinatieri field goal, extending the lead to 27-23, despite a three and out by Luck and the struggling offense.
Tennessee got the ball one more time, with 3:48 left in the game. Could the defense, who was exhausted on the long drive earlier, come through again? After throwing a first down, Locker was stopped for no gain by Cory Redding. He then threw two straight incompletions, aided by good pressure from the Colts front seven, especially Robert Mathis.
With 2:42 remaining, the Colts needed a couple first downs to seal the win. After a big run by Ballard for 13 yards, followed by a dive for no gain, Luck surprised the Tennessee defense, the commentators, and probably most people watching, with his 16th completion of the game, an 11-yarder to Dwayne Allen at the 2-minute warning.
Victory Formation. Game over. 27-23, Colts.
There is a great deal of concern about the Colts’ pass protection. Allowing the future of the franchise to be chased and hit on nearly every play is a huge problem. But the defense, often a bigger concern themselves, played some clutch football, and the Colts special teams units were phenomenal. If the defense and special teams play as well as they did today in a game where Luck gets hot on offense, this team could put together a real beauty of a game.
But for now, we’ll take the win however it comes. 9-4, 8-1 in one score games. That dream of the playoffs looks more realistic each week. They just keep finding ways to win. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m feeling pretty #CHUCKSTRONG once again.
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