Colts Rally from Second-Place in December to Seventh AFC South Title in Eight Seasons
INDIANAPOLIS – Throughout the final month of the season, Jim Caldwell didn't utter the word.
It wasn't superstition.
It was something more like respect.
Caldwell, who last season was in his second season as the Colts' head coach, said while there may have been times in the last four weeks of the 2010 season when observers wanted to talk playoffs, the time wasn't right.
"You probably noticed, I'm always reluctant to use that term," Caldwell said after the Colts won their final four regular-season games in a remarkable late-season run to the post-season.
"You've got to earn your right to play in the playoffs."
In the final month of the 2010 season, that's just what the Colts did.
The Colts, after starting the season 6-6 and slipping to second-place in the AFC South, won their final four games of the regular season to clinch the AFC South title for the seventh time in eight seasons. Indianapolis also during that stretch clinched an NFL-record tying ninth consecutive post-season appearance.
The 1975-83 Dallas Cowboys also made nine consecutive playoff appearances.
"It shows the great commitment and resolve that our men had going out on the field in certainly some adverse situations and being able to overcome it," Caldwell said. "We were at a point there where we were 6-6, but the great thing about it is that we really had control of our own destiny.
"They took the challenge and said, 'Hey, let's do something about it. We're going to string four together. That's what we have to do. We're going to get it done.' And they did so."
The Colts, after beating the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders in Weeks 14, 15 and 16, beat the Titans in the regular-season finale, 23-20, when kicker Adam Vinatieri booted a 43-yard field goal as time expired at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The run began four days after a 38-35 loss to Dallas at Lucas Oil Stadium moved the Colts into second- place in the AFC South in December for just the third time since 2002. The message following that game, Caldwell said, was "really just to do the things we were doing, but do them a little bit better."
"Nothing more than that – just kind of focus in on the things we were having difficulties with at that particular point in time when we hit that lull," Caldwell added. "We'd turned the ball over quite a bit. We'd been a team that always had the fewest penalties in the league or top-five fewest penalties. We had a few more penalties than we'd like, and we weren't doing the basic things. We weren't running the ball nearly as well as we'd like, and we weren't stopping the run.
"That was kind of our challenge to see if we could get things turned around. I think the guys did a good job in that regard."
A game-by-game look at the four games in the fourth quarter of the 2010 season:
Game 13: INDIANAPOLIS 30, TENNESSEE TITANS 28In a sense, Peyton Manning felt young again.
Manning, the Colts' 13-year veteran quarterback, threw a pair of first-half touchdowns and Adam Vinatieri kicked three second-half field goals in a nationally-televised 30-28 prime-time victory over the Titans in an AFC South game at LP Field in the 13th game of the 2010 regular season.
It was also a victory that kept the Colts very much in the playoff chase.
"This was one game," said Manning, who completed 25 of 35 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 118.6. "It reminds you of high school. You've got to win each game to kind of advance.
"This was kind of a playoff-type game and approach, and our backs were against the wall."
The Colts out-gained Tennessee 399-365, with Titans running back Chris Johnson rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Titans quarterback Kerry Collins completed 28 of 39 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns.
The Colts also rushed for 87 yards on 32 carries, creating balance offensively that Manning said was important.
"We had some ugly runs, but we had some that were effective," Manning said. "We had just enough of a mix, maybe, to sort of get us back in a three-dimensional offense, which is what you're always shooting for. I thought that was important."
Third-year wide receiver Pierre Garcon caught six passes for 93 yards and two first-half touchdowns for the Colts, and rookie running back Javarris James scored his sixth rushing touchdown of the season – a one-yarder late in the first quarter that gave the Colts an early 7-0 lead.
The Colts, who also had a 10-play drive on a first possession that resulted in no points, re-gained possession when defensive end Dwight Freeney stripped the ball from wide receiver Kenny Britt on a screen pass. Linebacker Tyjuan Hagler recovered at the 41.
Indianapolis then drove 59 yards, taking a 14-0 lead when Manning passed for a one-yard touchdown to Garcon.
"He played well," Caldwell said of Manning, who – after throwing 11 interceptions in the last three games – completed 15 of 22 first-half passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns as the Colts controlled early momentum. "He did a nice job of managing the game altogether.
"Peyton was Peyton. I'm sure he felt good about this performance, and we do as well."
The Colts pushed the lead to three touchdowns with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Garcon before the Titans cut the margin to a touchdown early in the second half.
First, the Titans made it 21-7 with a one-yard run by Johnson with :49 remaining in the first half, then Collins threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Craig Stevens on the first possession of the third quarter.
The Colts pushed the lead to 27-14 with a 21-yard field goal by Vinatieri later in the third quarter and a 28-yard field goal by Vinatieri early in the fourth quarter.
"All week, Peyton's been telling us, 'Just come out and have fun,' Wayne said. "We were able to come out there and get that done for the most part.'
Turning point: The Titans cut the lead to six, 27-21, when Collins passed four yards to tight end Bo Scaife, setting up a crucial last-game drive. One of the game's key plays came on the drive immediately after Scaife's touchdown. Facing 2nd-and-10 from the Colts 25 with 3:37 remaining, Manning passed to Garcon. Two Titans defenders had a chance to tackle him short of the first-down marker, but Garcon broke free for a 43-yard gain. "Very pivotal," Manning said. "A key play." Vinatieri's 47-yard field goal four plays later pushed the Indianapolis lead to nine, securing a critical December victory.
Moment to remember: When Manning passed to Garcon, it marked the 13th time in as many seasons he has thrown 25 or more touchdowns in a season. That's the longest such streak in NFL history by eight seasons.
Note: The Colts, who through the first 12 games of the season placed 15 players on injured reserve, entered the game without running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, linebacker Clint Session, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and wide receiver Austin Collie, and finished the game thin on the offensive line. Not only did offensive tackle Charlie Johnson leave the game with a shoulder injury, but guard Jamey Richard left late in the game. That left the Colts with five healthy offensive linemen. "We had five offensive linemen still standing, who could still play for us," Caldwell said. "We were fortunate to be able to get through that ballgame. They hung in there and played well. It was a great effort on the part of the team."
Quote to note: "Anytime you lose three in a row, you know those wins are precious. It's tough to do in this league, and particularly because our guys had to fight through some things."---Head Coach Jim Caldwell
Game 14: INDIANAPOLIS 34, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 24Manning said no matter how big the game, when a team stops the run and runs pretty well in the NFL, there's a pretty good chance the team will win.
In perhaps the biggest game of the Colts' season, they did both.
The result? A crucial victory.
With second-year running back Donald Brown rushing for a career-high 129 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, and with the defense holding Maurice Jones-Drew to 46 yards on 15 carries, the Colts held off a late rally for a 34-24 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in front of 67,147 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"When you run the ball and stop the run, no matter who's in there, it's going to give you a chance," said Manning, who completed 29 of 39 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns – with each touchdown coming in the first half to Collie.
"It's a combination of both," Manning added. "Those were our two challenges. Coach Caldwell made that challenge to us on Monday. He challenged both the interior fronts on both sides of the ball, for us to run the ball and for our defense to stop the run.
"Both answered the bell. Both answered the challenge."
The Colts (8-6) won for the second time in as many weeks, and although they were tied with the Jaguars (8-6) atop the AFC South, they controlled their post-season destiny.
"We knew our backs were against the wall for a couple of weeks now," Caldwell said. "It's just one of those things where you have to play well or you're not going to have an opportunity to do anything further. We're still just giving ourselves another opportunity here."
Jones-Drew, a Pro Bowl selection who entered the game as the NFL's second-leading rusher, had rushed for 100 yards in six consecutive games, with the Jaguars winning five of those games to take the AFC South lead in December for the first time in franchise history.
Jones-Drew had rushed for more than 100 yards in five of eight career games against the Colts.
The Colts took a 7-0 lead when Manning threw seven yards to Collie in the left side of the end zone and Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee's 22-yard field goal made it 7-3, Colts. The Colts immediately drove 92 yards on 11 plays, with Manning's 27-yard pass to Collie capping a drive that consumed 4:22.
After a punt return for a touchdown cut into the Colts lead, Brown turned in one of the biggest plays of the season to push the Colts' lead back to 10. Coming early in the third quarter on second-and-15, Brown zipped 43 yards for a touchdown, the club's longest scoring rush since 2001. Colts rookie linebacker Kavell Conner then recovered a fumbled punt with approximately 10:00 minutes remaining in the third quarter, and after a 34-yard field goal by Vinatieri, Indianapolis led, 24-10.
Jacksonville cut the lead to seven, 24-17, with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter with a six-yard pass from quarterback David Garrard to wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker. That was the Jaguars' first offensive touchdown of the game.
The Colts pushed the lead back 10 points, 27-17, with a 37-yard field goal by Vinatieri. After a touchdown pass from Garrard to Sims-Walker made it a three-point game, Colts linebacker Tyjuan Hagler returned an onside kick 41 yards for the game-clinching touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
"It's not like anything has changed for us," Caldwell said. "We still have to band together. I'm certainly proud of the way the guys hung in there."
Turning point: The Jaguars cut into the lead just before halftime on a 78-yard punt return by Mike Thomas, but Indianapolis quickly extended the lead in the second half, with Brown breaking off his second long run of the game – this one a 43-yarder around the left side of the line that gave the Colts a 21-10 lead with 12:19 remaining in the third quarter.
Moment to remember: The Jaguars, after trailing 14-10 at halftime and 24-10 in the second half, cut the lead to 27-24 with a one-yard touchdown pass from Garrard to wide receiver Sims-Walker. That was the second time the duo connected for a touchdown in the second half. But on the ensuing play, Hagler returned an onside kick untouched for a touchdown to secure the victory.
Note: The Colts, who entered the game ranked 32nd in the NFL in rushing, out-rushed the Jaguars 155-67. "We ran the ball well, which is big for us, and we stopped the run, which made a huge difference," Caldwell said.
Quote to note: "We realize it is a good win. Since that Cowboys game (the last loss of a three-game losing streak), we really knew we had four games, four must-win games, and we have won two of them. It's a good win, but certainly it is just one game and we have to be able to do it again next week."---QB-Peyton Manning
Game 15: INDIANAPOLIS 31, OAKLAND RAIDERS 26The Colts' approach had become as simple as their scenario.
With running back Dominic Rhodes rushing for 98 yards – and with Manning converting a critical late-game first down with a running play – the Colts continued their late-season push for a post-season spot by rallying for a 31-26 victory over the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
"This is a playoff game," Rhodes said after the Colts won their third consecutive game to maintain control of their post-season destiny. "These last four are playoff games, and you know what you have to do in the playoffs. You have to run the football.
"Right now, we're going out and doing what we're supposed to do."
With the victory, the Colts' playoff scenario remained clear.
They needed to win their regular-season finale to not only win the AFC South, but to qualify for the post-season.
"We've had that mentality the last four weeks," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "Nothing's going to change."
The Colts, who had won their last three games, moved a game ahead of the Jaguars with the victory. Jacksonville lost to Washington, 20-17, in overtime in Jacksonville. But although the Colts led the division, the Jaguars would win the division if they beat the Houston Texans the following Sunday providing Indianapolis lost to Tennessee in the regular-season finale.
"We have a little momentum going right now," Rhodes said. "We're definitely feeling good to be playing winning football."
Said Saturday, "We're just trying to get in the playoffs. We understand we have to win all of our games to secure the division. That's been our goal the past few weeks. There hasn't been any other talk, any other concern."
The Colts, who allowed a 99-yard kickoff return to Jacoby Ford to open the game, allowed just four field goals by Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski after that until a six-yard touchdown pass from Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell to tight end Zach Miller with 1:51 remaining.
"We played together as a team, as a unified defense," Colts defensive tackle Fili Moala said. "You saw the outcome. . . . We needed these last two games, but first and foremost, we had to take care of the Oakland Raiders. We did that today."
Turning point: An 18-yard pass from Manning to tight end Jacob Tamme gave the Colts a 17-13 halftime lead, at which time Indianapolis had held Oakland to 60 rushing yards. Taking possession late in the third quarter leading 17-16, Manning drove the Colts 56 yards on four plays, giving Indianapolis a 24-16 lead with a four-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Blair White.
Moment to remember: Manning, whose seven-yard touchdown pass to Garcon gave the Colts a 31-19 lead before a late Oakland touchdown, clinched the victory with a 27-yard rollout run late in the game. With the Colts facing 3rd-and-2 from the Oakland 31 with 1:39 remaining, Manning faked a handoff to Rhodes, who was running to the Colts' right. Without telling anyone, Manning kept the ball and ran around the left side for a 27-yard gain. With a chance to score, Manning instead slid at the 4, allowing the Colts to run out the clock.
Note: The Colts, who spent much of the season ranked 32nd in the NFL in rushing after ranking 31st and 32nd in 2008 and 2009, rushed for 191 yards and held the Raiders to 80 yards. Rhodes, a nine-year NFL veteran who began his third stint with the Colts three games before, rushed 98 yards on 17 carries, with 83 of those yards coming on 13 second-half carries. Addai, out the previous eight games with a neck injury, rushed for 45 yards on 12 carries, and Brown – who rushed for 129 yards in a victory over Jacksonville the week before – rushed for 28 yards on six carries.
Quote to note: "Either running back that goes in, they can get the job done."---RB-Joseph Addai
Game 16: INDIANAPOLIS 23, TENNESSEE TITANS 20Jim Caldwell didn't know – didn't want to know.
As for the players, a few said they did, and others didn't, but late in the regular-season finale, the overall feeling was whatever the circumstances elsewhere in the AFC South, and whatever the playoff scenario, the Colts just needed to win.
They did. Somehow. Someway.
Manning threw two touchdown passes, and Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal as time expired gave the Colts a 23-20 victory over the Titans in front of 67,188 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis in the 2010 regular-season finale.
"It's a good feeling when you look up and it's going through the middle," Vinatieri said.
The victory didn't technically give the Colts the AFC South title.
That had been clinched minutes before, when the Houston Texans beat the Jaguars, 34-17, in Houston, but with the victory, the Colts ended the season on a four-game, playoff-clinching winning streak.
It also made the Colts the third seed in the AFC.
"It certainly has been a unique season so far," Manning said of a season in which the Colts won the South despite finishing the season with players such as tight end Dallas Clark, wide receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie, safeties Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt and cornerback Jerraud Powers on injured reserve.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs to the season. I guess it's just a good example of perseverance. It's a different type of season than what we've been through lately and just a credit to everybody – the coaches and the players – for continuing to work, for continuing to have a positive attitude and believe. It's just a good way to finish the regular season off."
Said Caldwell, "Getting in is your ultimate goal, regardless of how you get in. It always adds a little bit of impetus and gives you a little momentum once you put together a streak like we've been on. Right now, we're in kind of a rhythm in terms of how we practice and those kinds of things.
"It's good to be able to stay in that rhythm, particularly when things have been happening on a positive note over the last four weeks."
The Colts, who won the South for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, with the victory also tied the 1975-83 Dallas Cowboys' NFL record of nine consecutive post-season appearances.
The Colts have won at least 10 games in each of the last nine seasons, the NFL's second-longest streak ever.
"It's pretty special," Colts 10-year right tackle Ryan Diem said. "It shows the consistency of the guys we have here – the core we've had during all that time. It's a special group and cool to be a part of it. None of them are easy. I don't care if you're 14-0, or at one point this year, we were 6-6. They're all hard. Every week is hard. It's hard to win in this league.
"It's a special feeling to do it again and to do it nine consecutive times, that's pretty awesome."
Diem said while he had heard late in the game that Houston was ahead by a few scores, he added, "It didn't matter."
"We didn't want to back our way into this thing," Diem said. "It would have been disappointing to lose this one and have that kind of cloud hanging over our heads heading into the playoffs."
Said Caldwell, "It's good for us to put a few back-to-back. We had not gone through a quarter yet where we were 4-0. That was something that was important to us, because we had to, obviously. We had no choice. The guys didn't succumb to the pressure.
"There was not a time during that stretch when I ever sensed they were in a panic. They took it in stride."
Turning point: The teams fought back and forth throughout, and while there were many memorable moments, the game didn't turn until the final Colts possession. After a Titans turnover, Manning methodically drove the Colts into Tennessee territory, and by the time Vinatieri lined up for the game-winner, the game was either likely going to be won by the Colts or it was going to overtime.
Moment to remember: Vinatieri's kick capped a wild late-game sequence, one that began when Rhodes committed the game's first turnover with just under two minutes remaining. Titans safety Michael Griffin recovered Rhodes' fumble at the Titans 43 and returned it to the Colts 37. But after a Colts timeout, Titans quarterback Kerry Collins fumbled. Colts defensive end Robert Mathis recovered at the Colts 38. The Colts' offense, which had last scored when Manning threw 30 yards to Garcon to take a 20-13 lead with 9:16 remaining in the third quarter, then put together one of its best drives of the second half. On 2nd-and-10, Manning threw 20 yards to Blair White, and two plays later, an 11-yard pass to Tamme gave Indianapolis 1st-and-10 at the 25. The Colts allowed the clock to drain to :03, after which Vinatieri's third goal of the game gave the Colts the victory.
Note: The Colts held the Titans to 51 yards rushing, with Johnson – the NFL's third-leading rusher entering the game and a 2,000-yard rusher a season ago – rushing for 39 yards on 20 carries. The Colts had 24 first downs to 17 for Tennessee, and Indianapolis out-rushed Tennessee, 101-51.
Quote to note: "It was a good win – an important win for us. There was a lot of craziness in the last five minutes – extremely crazy, the way it turned out – but we'll take it. We'll definitely take it. Every win is important, but this one felt pretty good."---K-Adam Vinatieri