Indianapolis Colts interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians referred to Sunday’s 27-23 come-from-behind win over the Tennessee Titans as a tale of two halves.
He wasn’t too far wrong.
Over the first two quarters of the game, Tennessee was firmly in control, taking a 20-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Titans had outgained a lethargic Indianapolis offense 270-111, limiting the running game to a paltry 12 yards.
Tennessee’s defense, meanwhile, caused havoc whenever the Colts tried to throw the football. The Titans’ front four overwhelmed Indianapolis’ offensive line, sacking rookie quarterback Andrew Luck three times and picking off two of his passes. One of those interceptions was returned 40 yards for a touchdown by weakside linebacker Will Witherspoon.
It certainly wasn’t a productive half of football for a Colts team that had won eight of its first 12 games this season and is in contention for one of the two available AFC playoff wild-card berths. Things looked bleak for Indianapolis. Somehow, though, the Colts got their act together over the third and fourth quarters en route to posting their ninth victory of the year.
It started with the opening drive of the third quarter. Indianapolis got the ball first to begin the second half and marched 80 yards in 14 yards, culminating in a 1-yard run by Delone Carter. That narrowed the margin to 20-14 with 8:36 left in the quarter.
Barely three minutes later, on Tennessee’s second possession of the half, cornerback Cassius Vaughn intercepted a Jake Locker pass and returned it three yards for a touchdown. The Titans had been pinned at their own 1-yard line after a 52-yard punt by Pat McAfee rolled out of bounds.
Just like that, Indianapolis had rallied for a 21-20 lead. Two Adam Vinatieri field goals, one boomed from 53 yards out and the other from 40 yards, were sandwiched around a 25-yard field goal by Titans placekicker Rob Bironas.
Locker’s second interception of the half, and the game, by cornerback Darius Butler set up Vinatieri’s second kick of the day and gave the Colts some much-needed breathing room.
Even then, Indianapolis had to rely on its defense to close out the game. The Titans picked up one first down on their final offensive possession before punter Brett Kern was forced to kick the ball away. Luck and the rest of the Colts offense were able to pick up two big first downs, one on a 13-yard run by Vick Ballard and the other on an 11-yard pass to tight end Dwayne Allen.
Somehow, someway, Indianapolis had managed to register its eighth one-possession win of the season and improved its overall record to 9-4 and 3-1 in the AFC South. Coupled with losses by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the Colts’ chances of being the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs keep getting better. One win over the team’s final three games of the regular season would pretty much clinch a wild-card spot.
“[The win was] something that we can obviously learn from,” Arians said. “Why we played as poorly as we did in the first half, we’ll go back and try to evaluate because we seemed to be ready to play the ball game. Obviously we were not in any phase of the game other than Pat McAfee kicking the heck out of the ball.
“Second half, as we have in the past, we’ve come in and figured out how and what we needed to do in the second half of the ball game to go out and overcome what [hole] we had dug. Obviously first thing first was to get points on the board. That was a great drive to start the second half and our defense did a heck of a job getting some turnovers.”
Tennessee had jumped out on top early on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Locker to tight end Jared Cook with 10:10 left in the first quarter. The Colts countered with a 4-yard toss from Luck to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
From that point on, though, it appeared as if everything was going the Titans’ way. Bironas connected on a 40-yard field goal to push their lead to 10-7. Shortly thereafter, Witherspoon scored on the interception return on a play that most of the 64,688 fans in attendance didn’t like.
It appeared that Luck’s knee was down when he threw the ill-advised pass. He scrambled on the play and fell forward as he got rid of the ball after being tackled by defensive end Derrick Morgan. After a replay review, however, the touchdown stood.
On Tennessee’s next possession, the Colts were penalized three times when it appeared as if Indianapolis’ defense had thwarted the drive. The Titans picked up three first downs via penalty, allowing Bironas time to kick his second field goal of the half, this one from 31 yards away.
The win was a costly one. Indianapolis lost center Samson Satele (ankle), offensive tackle Winston Justice (biceps), inside linebacker Kavell Conner (hamstring), fullback Robert Hughes (knee) and Carter (ankle). The Colts were down to only one healthy running back (Ballard).
“This was truly a battle of attrition,” Arians said. “We were down to our last lineman again and we dressed three backs and two guys got hurt on the same play. So Vick [Ballard] was all we had and that’s kind of why we had five wides in there in the second half because we had no more running backs. We had to give them a blow. I was really pleased with our defense getting turnovers.
"Obviously, the big score [from Vaughn’s interception return] was huge to get the lead and then it was our offense’s job to answer the bell and to score at the time that they did. It was a great team win again and like [I’ve] said earlier, there won’t be any blowouts with this team. This team is too young. We just try to figure out a way to win every week and so far we’ve been able to do that.”
Luck completed 16-of-34 passes for 196 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked four times. Wayne caught six passes for 64 yards and a TD. Ballard got the bulk of the work at running back and wound up with career-best 94 yards on 19 carries.
Locker connected on 22-of-35 passes for 262 yards and one TD and was sacked once. He had two interceptions while also rushing for a team-high 51 yards. The Indianapolis defense did a nice job of containing Titans running back Chris Johnson, who had 44 yards on 19 carries.
Indianapolis will have two straight road games, facing AFC South leader Houston next week at Reliant Stadium and then going to Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 23. The Colts will close out the regular season at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 30.
Indianapolis Colts interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians referred to Sunday’s 27-23 come-from-behind win over the Tennessee Titans as a tale of two halves.
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According to Andrew Luck, so far so good.
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A year ago, quarterback Andrew Luck was unable to attend the Indianapolis Colts’ organized team activity practices due to school commitments at Stanford.
Luck, though, went on to have a stellar year for the Colts despite the lack of summer work with the team. Still, in a sense, he is a rookie during this year’s OTA workouts.
“These are my first OTAs. I missed these last year, so I think it’s great. It’s great to get on the field with the defense and trouble-shoot some stuff. Obviously, some of us ran some of this stuff [offense] at Stanford [under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton]. But to get out there with the defense and trouble-shoot some stuff is good,” Luck said Wednesday as the team wrapped up its first week of on-field voluntary practice sessions.
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Colts hoping for more high marks on draft picks
A year ago, the Indianapolis Colts received high marks for the impact players the team added through the NFL draft.
Of the 10 players selected, five ended up either starting or seeing extensive playing time (quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and running back Vick Ballard) during the Colts’ 11-5 season.
While this year’s class may not rival that group in terms of name recognition and flash, it may produce just as many major contributors once the 2013 season gets underway.
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Colts in wait-and-see mode for tonight’s NFL draft
As the 2013 NFL draft gets underway tonight at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the Indianapolis Colts are continuing their wait-and-see stance in regard to the first-round pick.
The draft begins at 8 p.m. — televised by the NFL Network and ESPN — with the Kansas City Chiefs making the night’s first selection. Teams will have 10 minutes to make their decisions during the first round. Indianapolis will have the 24th overall pick in the first round.
There will be only one round tonight. The second and third rounds are scheduled for Friday, beginning at 6:30 p.m. with seven minutes allotted per pick in the second round and five minutes allowed in the third. The final four rounds are slated to begin at noon Saturday with four minutes between selections.
As it stands now, Indianapolis does not have a second-round pick. It was traded to Miami last fall in exchange for veteran cornerback Vontae Davis. But second-year general manager Ryan Grigson has nut ruled out the possibility of trading down from the first round if the Colts aren’t satisfied with the players available.
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Colts sign nose tackle
Another day, more player signings for the Indianapolis Colts.
Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin agreed to terms with the Colts on Tuesday evening and officially signed with the team Wednesday. Franklin (6-1, 315) is a 10-year NFL veteran with stops in Baltimore (2003-06), San Francisco (2007-10), New Orleans (2011) and San Diego (2012).
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The Indianapolis Colts’ roster moves just keep coming.
While the Colts haven’t yet added that big-name wide receiver that team owner Jim Irsay hinted at in tweets over the weekend, Indianapolis has addressed one area on offense.
Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had agreed Monday night to be the Colts’ primary back-up to second-year starter Andrew Luck. He officially signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the team Tuesday morning.
“We are very pleased to announce the signing of Matt Hasselbeck,” general manager Ryan Grigson said in a prepared statement. “His body of work, intangibles, and extensive league experience speak for themselves. Those factors, plus his familiarity with our offensive scheme, will make him a great asset to our team and its vision as we move forward.”
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Landry, Jean Francois join Colts defensive unit
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New York Jets safety LaRon Landry and San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois both signed contracts with the Colts. Landry, a strong safety who appears to be a bigger version of former Indianapolis Pro Bowler Bob Sanders, and the versatile Jean-Francois are expected to make immediate impacts on the Colts’ defensive unit.
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What the Indianapolis Colts accomplished last season — posting an 11-5 record and earning an AFC wild-card berth with a young team plus having that kind of success without its head coach on the sidelines for 12 games — didn’t go unnoticed by players around the NFL.
That was especially true for the five veteran free agents who were added to the Colts’ roster Tuesday. Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus (Detroit), cornerback Greg Toler (Arizona), outside linebacker Erik Walden (Green Bay), offensive guard Donald Thomas (New England) and linebacker Lawrence Sidbury (Atlanta) admitted as much Wednesday.
“I felt like this would be the best fit for me at this point in my career. I really liked what I saw was happening with the program here and the way things have taken shape. I feel like we have a really great team here and it’s on the rise. I really wanted to be a part of that,” Thomas said during a teleconference interview with the Colts’ media.
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Jeff Saturday retires as a Colt
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The 14-year veteran center in the NFL put an official stamp on a career Thursday that began in Baltimore in 1998 and ended in Green Bay in 2012. But it was those 13 seasons in between — from 1999 to 2011 in which he played for Indianapolis — when Saturday earned his greatest rewards.
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McAfee, an unrestricted free agent who’s contract is due to expire March 12, was designated as the Colts’ franchise player Friday. The move allows Indianapolis extra time to work out a long-term deal for the team’s special-teams ace.
“He’s huge. He’s a major priority in free agency. Obviously, we’ve reached out and are working to get Pat re-signed,” Pagano said during the National Football Scouting Combine. “We saw what he did for us last year. He’s a great weapon, not only kickoffs and touchbacks.
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Back and ready to go.
That’s the attitude Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano is taking during the National Football Scouting Combine, which completed its second day of operations Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. During a wide-ranging press conference at the combine, Pagano confirmed that he is back to a full work regimen after missing 12 games last fall as he battled a rare form of leukemia.
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