Comeback Colts Finish First Four Games of the Season at .500
INDIANAPOLIS – They overcame injury, adversity and a difficult start.
For many, that's how the 2008 Colts season may be best remembered, a season about which a few things were certain.
It wasn't easy. It wasn't normal. And it certainly wasn't boring.
And that was true from the beginning.
The Colts, after three consecutive seasons in which they led the AFC South from start to finish – and after three consecutive unbeaten Septembers and Octobers – finished the first quarter of 2008 at .500, needing a pair of dramatic, heart-stopping victories to do so.
In splitting their first four games, the Colts:
• Lost twice at home.
• Won twice on the road.
• Overcame fourth-quarter road deficits of 15 and 17 points.
• Turned in two of the biggest road comebacks of the 2008 season.
It was an unusual September and early October compared to the previous three, and while the Colts slipped quickly behind the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South, it was a crucial month that enabled Indianapolis to stay close in a competitive, tightly-contested AFC South.
Quarterback Peyton Manning, after missing training camp and the preseason after offseason knee surgery, started and played the first four games of the season, continuing his streak of not having missed a start in 11 NFL seasons. Twice during the month, in Minnesota and Houston, he helped the Colts rally from double-digit road deficits.
But although the rallies kept the Colts at .500, and although they were dramatic and memorable, then-Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said they were far from ideal.
"That's not what we're looking for," Dungy said after a 31-27 victory over Houston in early October pulled the Colts to .500. "That's not the way we practice. That's not the way we've done things for a number of years. For some reason, we seem to have it this year. We have to get through that and fight through that and build on it. You're not going to be able to come from 15 points down week after week after week. It just doesn't work that way in the NFL. We have to work to eliminate that."
A look at the four games in the first quarter of the 2007 season:
Game 1: CHICAGO BEARS 29, INDIANAPOLIS 13
This wasn't how the Colts wanted to celebrate history. Not even close.
And it certainly wasn't how they wanted to open the regular season.
The Colts, in uncharacteristic fashion, not only opened the regular season with a loss for the first time in four seasons, they did so at home with a 29-13 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football in the first game ever played at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"It's sickening, is what it feels like," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said afterward. "It's really disappointing to lose. We've got to go to work."
Manning, who did not participate in training camp or preseason after July knee surgery, started and played the whole game, completing 30 of 49 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
"I thought he played OK," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said of Manning. "We didn't hit some that we normally hit, but all in all, we just didn't play well enough to win. . . . I would not want to tarnish the Bears' victory by saying, 'Peyton wasn't himself or didn't play in the preseason.'
"The Bears outplayed us and that was the difference."
Said Manning, "Once you suit up and you're out there playing, you're full go. It's your job to go out and play. I tried to play within myself tonight and be smart with the football."
The Colts also entered the game without three-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday (knee) and rookie offensive guard Mike Pollak (knee), the latter of whom was the team's second-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. They rushed for 53 yards on 15 carries, with rookie Jamey Richard starting at center and third-year veterans Dan Federkeil and Charlie Johnson making their first NFL starts at guard.
Chicago outrushed the Colts, 183-53, and the Colts' defense – which finished second in the NFL in total defense and first in points allowed in 2007 – allowed 319 total yards.
The Bears' 29 points were more than any Colts opponent scored the previous season.
"They just outplayed us today," Colts defensive tackle Raheem Brock said. "We missed a lot of tackles and missed some assignments. They just had a good game plan and executed it. Basically, I think we beat ourselves. They did a good job of executing and we just didn't execute on our side."
The Colts took an early 3-0 lead, but the Bears immediately drove 54 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, with rookie running back Matt Forte breaking free for a 50-yard touchdown run with 4:59 remaining in the quarter. Chicago never trailed again.
The Colts trimmed the lead to 7-6 with kicker Adam Vinatieri's second field goal – a 34-yarder with 9:38 remaining in the second quarter. Chicago pushed the lead to 10-6 with a 41-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, and after Marcus Harrison sacked Manning for a 10-yard loss at the Indianapolis 2, Chicago defensive end Adewale Ogunleye tackled Colts running back Joseph Addai in the end zone for a safety.
That made it 12-6, Bears, with 4:05 remaining in the half.
The Bears took possession after a free punt by Hunter Smith, then drove 55 yards on the final possession of the half, with Gould's 25-yard field goal as time expiring giving the Bears a nine-point halftime lead.
The Colts drove 52 yards on seven plays on their first drive of the second half, pulling to within two when Manning found wide receiver Reggie Wayne for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Indianapolis then regained possession with a chance to take the lead, but Bears linebacker Lance Briggs picked up a fumble by Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown with 1:52 remaining in the third quarter. The Colts never threatened again.
Turning point: The Bears led throughout most of the first half, but Indianapolis had regained momentum and late in the third quarter, a touchdown pass from Manning to Wayne trimmed a nine-point deficit to 15-13.
Shortly thereafter, the Colts had possession at their 16.
On 2nd-and-10, Manning threw a short pass to Harrison, who was stripped of the ball by Bears cornerback Charles Tillman. Briggs picked up the ball at the Indianapolis 21 and returned it for a touchdown.
"It was disappointing," Manning said. "I felt like I was starting to get into it at the start of the second half. I thought we had a little bit of something going there at the beginning of the half with the touchdown."
Moment to remember: At kickoff, the retractable roof of new, state-of-the-art Lucas Oil Stadium was open. The moment marked the first regular-season game played outdoors in the 25-year history of Indianapolis Colts football.
Note: The Colts, who had lost only two previous September games in Dungy's six previous seasons as head coach, lost the season-opener for just the second time under Dungy. They last had lost a season-opener in 2004, when they lost to the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., 27-24. The Colts in 2005 began the season with a franchise-best 13 consecutive victories to start the season, then began 2006 with a 9-0 record and in 2007 with a 7-0 record.
Quote to note: "We certainly hadn't had one like that in a long time. We got just solidly outplayed. It's disappointing, but I have to give the Bears all the credit. They played well. They played hard. They did the things you have to do to win. They didn't do things that cause you to lose. They outplayed us for four quarters and the score was kind of indicative of that."
Game 2: INDIANAPOLIS 18, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 15
The Colts were on the road with an 0-1 record. Facing a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit, things looked bleak.
Actually, they looked real bleak.
"When I think 0-2, that's a very ugly number," running back Dominic Rhodes said with a smile afterward.
Rhodes' smile wasn't the only one in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome's visiting locker room following an 18-15 Colts victory over the Minnesota Vikings that Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy called one of the most satisfying in seven seasons with the organization.
Many players agreed.
Peyton Manning, the Colts' 11-year, eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, said he wasn't sure where he would place the Colts' improbable, memorable, heart-stopping victory, but wherever it ranked, this much was certain:
The Colts really, really needed it.
"This one's monumental," Colts defensive end Robert Mathis said.
The Colts, after falling behind by nine points at halftime and by 15 points late in the third quarter, rallied for a dramatic victory over the Vikings, clinching the victory with kicker Adam Vinatieri's 47-yard field goal with three seconds remaining.
"I don't believe in ugly wins," said Manning, who completed 26 of 42 passes for 311 yards and a touchdown. "All wins are sweet. They're hard to come by. I know the Vikings feel just as sick as we felt last week in that locker room. A couple of plays here or there and we're feeling sick in this locker room. The game comes down to usually a few plays.
"It's hard to rank them, I guess. We've had a lot of good games around here. But it feels good to get the win."
Said Dungy, "I'm very, very proud of our effort. It was going to be one of those games where you had to play for 60 minutes. We couldn't get discouraged and we didn't. We had a lot of things go wrong for us, a lot of things we didn't do well in the first half, but I didn't detect anybody hanging their heads or giving up. It was a big win for us."
The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions and a playoff team eight of the past nine seasons, the previous week lost their regular-season opener for the first time since 2004.
"Going 0-2, that damages your morale," Mathis said. "That would be devastating to a team of our caliber and what we're used to."
Colts veterans compared the victory to a 38-35 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, a Monday Night game in which the Colts rallied from a 35-14 deficit in the final four minutes to win in overtime.
"It definitely ranks up there with that Tampa Bay game back in the day," said Rhodes, whose two-point conversion in the fourth quarter tied it at 15-15 with 5:54 remaining. "I think that's going to jumpstart us. We had a tough day today. We persevered. We did what the Colts do, which is play together as a team and hang as a family. We came back and won."
Said right tackle Ryan Diem, "Obviously, we didn't have to score as many times (as against Tampa Bay), but it was as difficult of a challenge to get in good field position and finish it off."
Turning point: Colts second-year wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez called it "probably the dumbest thing I've ever done." Others called it a huge turning point in the Colts' victory over Minnesota. With 3:31 remaining in the third quarter, the Colts faced 3rd-and-6 at their 24 and trailed 15-0. On the play, Manning threw deep to Gonzalez, who was tackled near the Vikings 15. Just before his knee touched the ground, he pitched the ball to wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who caught the ball, broke a tackle and advanced to the Vikings 1 for a 75-yard gain. "It stuck to my hand," Wayne said, smiling. Three plays later, running back Joseph Addai scored on a 1-yard run to cut the Vikings' lead to eight. "I'm not quite sure what he was doing," Manning said of Gonzalez. "I'm not sure he really knew, either. He probably regrets it. I don't think we really want to see much of that again." However it happened, Manning said the play gave the Colts momentum. "Talk about needing a play," Manning said. "We needed something to happen." The Colts, who had 100 yards, seven first downs and no points in 41 minutes before the lateral play, had 226 yards, 10 first downs and 18 points in 19 minutes thereafter. "There's not much you can say about it," Gonzalez said, smiling. "I would like to have scored by outrunning everybody. Once that didn't happen, I was trying to make a play, I guess. That's one of those things where if I'm watching on TV I'm going, 'What is he doing?' But it worked out."
Moment to remember: After rallying to make it 15-15 with 5:54 remaining, the Colts forced a Vikings punt, punted themselves, then forced another Vikings punt. They took possession at the 50 and with 34 seconds remaining, faced 3rd-and-9 from the Vikings 49. On the play, Manning passed to Wayne, whose catch gave the Colts a first down at the Vikings 29. "The guy had pretty good coverage (on Wayne)," Manning said. "It was a good route by Reggie. It's kind of a blind spot for the defender. He has good coverage, the ball's thrown and right as he looks, the ball's already past him. It's kind of hard to cover that pass." Manning spiked the ball to stop the clock, setting up Vinatieri's winning kick.
Note: By the end of the Minnesota game, the Colts' offensive line was without center Jeff Saturday, guard Ryan Lilja and offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, all of whom were projected to start in the offseason. When Ugoh – a second-year left tackle – left the Minnesota game with a groin injury, none of the trio was in the lineup. Lilja, a starting guard, was on the Physically Unable to Perform list and Saturday had missed the first two games with a knee injury. "It's a little different for us, sure," right tackle Ryan Diem said. "We're looking forward to getting some guys healthy, but in the meantime, guys are doing great." When Ugoh left the game, the Colts' offensive line was Diem, rookie Steve Justice at center, rookie Jamey Richard at center, veteran Dan Federkeil at guard and veteran Charlie Johnson at left tackle.
Quote to note: "Obviously, 0-2 wouldn't have been good. We've got some things we need to correct, some things we need to fix. We did have a sense of urgency. We had to have that. . . . This was an imant game, to try to get a win."
Game 3: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 23, INDIANAPOLIS 21
After a second loss in three games, Tony Dungy didn't focus on officiating, or what could have been.
Rather, he focused on what happened at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 23.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Colts each had opportunities for big plays, Dungy said afterward. The Jaguars made them. The Colts didn't.
Josh Scobee, who in 2004 kicked a 50-yard-plus field goal to beat the Colts, did the same thing in Week 3 of 2008, kicking a 51-yard field goal with :04 remaining to give the previously-winless Jaguars a come-from-behind 23-21 victory in front of 65,938.
"That's what happened today – they made the plays," Dungy said.
The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions, slipped to 1-2 with the loss, their first time under .500 after three games since 1998.
"It is what it is," said Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who completed 15 of 29 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions for a passer rating of 59.9. "We have to deal with it and try to do something about it. It's never fun losing a game going into your bye week.
"You want to have a good taste in your mouth and kind of a positive feeling. We certainly don't have that right now."
The Colts, who entered the game ranked 32nd in the NFL in rushing defense, allowed Jacksonville 236 yards on 48 carries, with Jaguars running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew each rushing for more than 100 yards.
After a 21-yard field goal by Scobee gave the Jaguars a 20-14 lead with 2:33 remaining, Indianapolis moved 77 yards in 11 plays, taking the lead with a 2-yard run by running back Joseph Addai (79 yards, two touchdowns, 16 carries) with 1:07 remaining.
The Jaguars then drove 47 yards on seven plays to set up Scobee's game-winning field goal.
Manning completed 4 of 4 passes for 55 yards on a seven-play 80-yard game-opening drive, giving the Colts a 7-0 lead with a four-yard touchdown pass to eight-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison with 11:03 remaining. The play was Harrison's first touchdown of the season.
Addai rushed three times for 17 yards on the drive, and finished the quarter with 38 yards rushing on six carries. Manning completed 7 of 8 passes in the quarter for 78 yards and a touchdown.
The Jaguars cut the lead to 7-3 with a 26-yard field goal by Scobee with 12:33 remaining before halftime. Scobee's field goal capped a 75-yard, 13-play drive that consumed 7:09.
With 5:10 remaining in the quarter, Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis returned an interception 61 yards to give the Jaguars their first lead, 10-7. The Colts rallied, but Scobee's late field goal sent Indianapolis into the bye a game under .500 and two games behind Tennessee in the AFC South.
"We need to use this bye week to get better," Manning said. "We need to hopefully get a couple of guys back after the bye week. I thought it was an early bye week when the schedule came out, but maybe with our injury situation we can use it to our advantage.
"Hopefully, we can use the practice time to get better and hopefully bounce back with a win."
Turning point: The Colts took a 7-0 lead that the Jaguars cut to 7-3, which was the score with 5:10 remaining in the second quarter when Mathis made a play that changed the game's momentum. On the play, Manning threw short to wide receiver Marvin Harrison, but Mathis intercepted and returned it 61 yards to give the Jaguars their first lead, 10-7. "I didn't get a real good look at it," Manning said. "I did see Marvin's jersey afterwards. . . . I didn't get a great look at it. I've thrown a lot of hook routes to Marvin and when he's coming back to the quarterback, it's almost impossible for the corner to cut in front of him unless he's grabbing him. That was disappointing, because it gave them the touchdown, but it happened early and we had chances to overcome them. Certainly, it's unfortunate."
Moment to remember: The Jaguars drove 47 yards on seven plays in 1:03 to set up Scobee's game-winning field goal, a kick that came four plays after the most controversial play of the game. With :29 remaining, the Jaguars faced 4th-and-1 from their 29. Quarterback David Garrard threw an incomplete pass to his right, and after the ball hit the Lucas Oil Stadium FieldTurf, Colts players celebrated. Seconds later came a penalty flag. The call was pass interference against linebacker Freddy Keiaho, a call that gave Jacksonville a first down. "They said it was pass interference, because he ran into the intended receiver," Dungy said a day later after speaking with officials from the league office. "It was just one of those unfortunate things. He's looking at his man and happened to run into the guy who was the intended receiver. That one, they said, was a good call. It's one of those tough situations. I think it was the right call. We still had a couple of chances to stop them after that."
Note: The loss was the second for the Colts in as many regular-season games at Lucas Oil Stadium, the state-of-the-art stadium that opened in downtown Indianapolis in August of 2008. They went 15-1 at the RCA Dome in the 2006 and 2007 regular seasons.
Quote to note: "They always play us tough and we knew it was going to be a dogfight. They won the game in the closing seconds and you have to tip your hat off to those guys. Obviously, they had a good game plan coming in and running the ball against us. We just didn't stop them."
--- Colts Middle Linebacker Gary Brackett
Game 4: INDIANAPOLIS 31, HOUSTON TEXANS 27
For the second time in three games, the Colts trailed by double digits late in a game on the road. For the second time in three games, things looked very, very bleak.
For the second time in three games, the Colts came back.
The Colts fell behind by 17 points in the fourth quarter before rallying for a second improbable victory in three games, scoring 21 points in a late fourth-quarter span of 2:10 for a 31-27 victory over the Houston Texans in front of 70,118 at Reliant Stadium on October 5.
"That game certainly ran the whole gamut of emotions for us," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "I've never been involved in one quite like that where we played the first 10 minutes pretty well, not too well in between, then the last four we played with some passion and intensity and got some breaks to win it. . . .
"The one thing that was positive was we hung in there. We played all the way through. That's what the NFL is all about. You have to play 60 minutes."
The Colts scored on a defensive touchdown and two touchdown passes by eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning in the final five minutes to stay within two-and-half games of unbeaten Tennessee (5-0) in the AFC South.
"We were fortunate," said Manning, who completed 25 of 34 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for a 101.0 passer rating.
The Colts trailed, 27-10, after Texans rookie running back Steve Slaton's 1-yard run with 8:18 remaining. Indianapolis still trailed, 27-17, after Manning passed six yards to rookie tight end Tom Santi with 4:04 remaining.
Following an unsuccessful onside kick, Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels rushed for seven yards on 3rd-and-8 from the Colts 39. As he was about to be tackled, he leaped into the air, was hit by Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson, then defensive tackle Raheem Brock's hit separated Rosenfels from the ball.
Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett returned a fumble 68 yards for a touchdown to make it, 27-24, Texans with 3:36 remaining.
On the Texans' next series, Rosenfels scrambled to his left and Colts defensive end Robert Mathis sacked him from behind, stripping the ball away and recovering the fumble.
"I was hoping he would just hold onto the ball," Mathis said. "Somebody had to make a play. That's just the bottom line."
Two plays later, Manning threw a fade pass to two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne (seven receptions, 97 yards), who touched his shin down just in bounds.
"I just had to make a play," Wayne said. "Peyton threw the ball and I just had to do my job, and that's to catch it."
One minute, 54 seconds remained, and on the sixth play of the ensuing drive, Colts second-year safety Melvin Bullitt intercepted Rosenfels to preserve the victory.
Turning point: Brackett had a choice, and little time to make it. The Colts trailed 27-17. Less than four minutes remained. The ball was on the Reliant Stadium grass, and Brackett figured he could either fall on the ball or pick it up and try to make a big play. Given the circumstances, Brackett said he didn't have much choice. He picked up the fumble by Rosenfels, returning it 68 yards for a touchdown that changed the game's momentum. "We needed a big play," Brackett said. "The ball came loose. I saw it on the ground. None of me said, 'Jump on the ball.' At that point, we really had to make a big play. After I got the ball in my hands, I just hoped I had enough gas to make it to the end zone."
Moment to remember: Wayne said he didn't know if he had scored or not. He was just glad his teammates were right. With just under two minutes remaining and the Colts facing 1st-and-goal at the Houston 5, Manning threw a fade pass to Wayne that officials ruled a touchdown. The play was reviewed, after which officials ruled that because Wayne had touched his shin in bounds, the call in the field stood. "I had no clue, especially with the new rule being in effect," Wayne said, referring to a new NFL rule that said a defender can force a receiver out of bounds. "That works against us. I kind of went to the sideline telling everybody I didn't know, but everybody said, 'No, you're good.' Hey, the majority rules."
Note: The Colts, after forcing two turnovers in the first 15 quarters of the season, forced three in the game's final four minutes against the Texans.
Quote to note: "It certainly feels a lot better (to be 2-2 rather than 1-3). You don't take winning for granted. I know how that team feels in the other locker room. They played a heck of a game and didn't get the win. That's football a little bit. . . . I was proud of the guys for never giving up and fighting until the end."