INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts were 1-1 in the first quarter of the season with a 41-21 loss at Chicago and a 23-20 home win over Minnesota.
A look at games three and four of the 2012 season.
Game 3: JACKSONVILLE 22, COLTS 17
A game that started looking a bit like the one preceding it took on the same look in the second half, but the final seconds of the contest afforded a more sobering outcome for the Colts.
Where Indianapolis zoomed to an 11-point halftime lead against Minnesota a week earlier, it did so again against Jacksonville in earning a 14-3 cushion at the break.
But where the Colts never lost the lead to the Vikings and won at the end, Indianapolis had to come from behind against the Jaguars, then saw a last-minute lead evaporate in the blink of an eye in a 22-17 defeat.
The exciting-turned-to-frustration afternoon saw the Colts erase a 3-0 Jacksonville lead when Andrew Luck found a wide-open T.Y. Hilton for a 40-yard strike for a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter. The duo that averaged almost 39 yards per touchdown strike on the year had its first long scoring connection.
After forcing three Jaguars punts, the Colts struck again in their budding "hurry-up" mode when Luck steered the Colts 80 yards for a two-score lead. He hit Mewelde Moore on a four-yard tally with 37 seconds left in the half.
The nature of the contest flipped quickly when Maurice Jones-Drew, who had 70 first-half rushing yards, burst free for a 59-yard score 2:55 into the third quarter. The Colts punted twice to open the half before Luck was intercepted. Jacksonville used the takeaway for the first of two Josh Scobee field goals in the closing periods to take the lead.
Four punts, a turnover and a missed field goal marked the Colts second half totals until 1:33 remained. Luck then moved Indianapolis 48 yards for a 37-yard Vinatieri field goal with 56 seconds left in the game.
What appeared to be a second straight comeback victory and a huge win over a divisional foe ended in 11 seconds when Blaine Gabbert hit Cecil Shorts on a quick pass in the middle of the field and he bolted 80 yards for a touchdown. Indianapolis reached the Jacksonville 26 with seven seconds to go, but two incompletions ended the contest.
"You look at our third quarter woes. We come out, we get a big gain in the first series of the third quarter. You throw a 13-yard pass and you have an incomplete pass, and you've got a holding on second-and-10. Now you're second-and-20, and you dig yourself a hole, and it's hard to get out of," said Pagano. "Then we punt the ball and the first play from scrimmage they rattle off a 59-yard touchdown run. By no means is that any way to come out of halftime.
"They had 330 yards total offense and basically two plays, 140 yards. We always say penalties and big plays are just demoralizing and they kill you. We've got to find a way to avoid those."
Turning point: Maurice Jones-Drew historically has been a tough customer for the Colts, and he carried 28 times for 177 yards, with the game's turning point being his 59-yard scamper. Until then, the Colts looked to have matters relatively in hand.
Moment to remember: An injury-depleted Colts secondary contributed to the long pass between Gabbert and Shorts. Gabbert had hit only nine-of-20 passes for 75 yards before the game-winner. It was a stunning moment from which the team had to overcome as the season ensued. It thought Chuck Pagano would be the leader, but the even more shocking news of his illness was a few days away from being learned.
Note: Hilton's touchdown was the first true big play he provided in a record-setting rookie season. He went on to have the team's three longest scoring snares of the year. His 111 reception yards marked the first of a Colts rookie record five such outings. Luck had his second 300-plus game. Sadly, the Colts lost Austin Collie with a ruptured patellar tendon. Four special teams penalties cost the team about 80 yards throughout the game. Pat McAfee had a 46.7 punting average after topping a 50.0 mark in the first two games. Thirteen of his 14 kickoffs in three games reached the end zone, netting seven touchbacks.
*Quote to note: *"Pat McAfee is playing as good or better than anybody in the league on special teams, I mean he's just been outstanding punting the football. His kickoffs are tremendous, holding, all those types of things. So I'm really pleased where he's at." – Chuck Pagano
Game 4: COLTS 30, GREEN BAY 27
The sour taste of a tough loss was held through a bye week, and the first day back to prepare for Green Bay held worse news as the team learned of Pagano's illness.
Players and coaches were assured Pagano's leukemia was treatable. Interim leader Bruce Arians urged that the lights be left on in Pagano's office until he returned, then it was off to honor the ill leader by preparing for Green Bay.
What ended up a storybook day started like a horror film as Green Bay raced to a 21-3 lead. Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers were sacked a combined nine times and hit on 16 other occasions, but two scoring tosses by Rodgers put the Packers up substantially.
Jerraud Powers intercepted Rodgers three plays into the third quarter, and the Colts cut the deficit to 21-10 in five plays. Adam Vinatieri hit a 50-yard field goal midway through the period, then Luck tallied on a three-yard run to end it. A two-point pass failed, and the Colts trailed, 21-19.
Indianapolis took a 22-21 lead in the midst of eight Packers offensive possessions that produced only five first downs. Rodgers was sacked twice more on the possession after Vinatieri's 28-yard field goal to put the Colts ahead, but he threw a scoring pass with 4:30 to go for a 27-22 Green Bay advantage.
Luck and Reggie Wayne spearheaded one of the most memorable comeback drives in the team's Indianapolis era by connecting five times for 64 yards, including a four-yard scoring play with 35 seconds left where Wayne stretched the ball one-handed over the goal-line. A key play in the drive was a third-and-12 hook-up for 15 yards when Luck was in the grasp of a blitzing Clay Matthews.
After a two-point rush, the Colts survived a long missed field goal to have an 18-point win, 30-27, for its hospitalized leader who watched on television.
"I can't say enough about the resiliency of these guys," said Arians. "We got together at halftime, there was no panic. It was just, 'This is what we have to do and let's get it done. Play third-down football. Score every possession, which we almost did. Get some stops, and we did.' You can't say enough about the end. It became a storybook ending, and we got a game ball for Chuck (Pagano). (It was the) greatest win I've ever been a part of."
Having the longest relationship with Pagano, the win was significant for Wayne.
"It's big. I've been knowing Chuck for a long time, 16 years. Great human being, great coach, great personality, great husband, he identifies the word 'great,' " said Wayne. "To be able to come out and just do it for him (was important). I said to myself I was going to lay it all out on the line. They were going to have to carry me off, the old (Kellen) Winslow senior, give everything I had.
"As a team, we were able to just keep fighting, fighting, fighting and fighting. It was collective effort for everybody that was able to find a way and we got it done."
Turning point: A second-quarter play at the Colts' 30-yard line that related to no points was critical. After being sacked and fumbling, Andrew Luck raced to the sideline to bat the loose ball out of bounds to retain a possession for Indianapolis. His moxie and hustle in such a moment while trailing 14-0 kept Indianapolis in a game it would win. A Green Bay takeaway could have spelled the end with 40 minutes to play.
Moment to remember: Reggie Wayne has authored great moments, but his 13 receptions for 212 yards represented a virtuoso performance. Targeted 20 times, Wayne made play after play, willing the ball into the end zone for the winning score. Luck-to-Wayne, in a small way, was reminiscent of Unitas-to-Berry from 1958.
Note: Luck became the first NFL rookie to pass from 1,200 yards and have at least two wins in his team's first four games. Wayne became the first Colt with two career 200 -yard games, and it was only the fifth in club history. It was his 15th game with 10 catches, sixth-most in NFL history. The 18-point comeback tied the third-largest in club history. In the second half, four Colts combined for five sacks, while the turnover resulted in seven points and the offense gained 18 first downs and scored 27 points. Bruce Arians won his first game as the interim coach.
*Quote to note: *"Everyone knows about the second half lulls we've been having all season. We came out fast in the second half, and (Bruce Arians) has been saying all week, we're going to play the first 30, and after the first 30, we'll figure out what we'll do on the next 30, and that's what we did. We came out with the victory." – Jerraud Powers
*Quote to note (2): *"I like how resilient we are. I like how the blend of old and young we have on our team – those cornerstones of our team, those leaders, 'pillars' as we call them – have really helped lay this foundation to where the younger players can look to them in times of adversity and see how they do things. Like Bruce Arians mentioned throughout the week, 'The foundation we laid here, that Chuck Pagano has instilled in this team, has shown up.' It's beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was built on a rock. We're going to keep on every day just trying to get better, control the things we can control, learn to play four quarters of football, not just a half, not just come alive in the fourth quarter. We played a pretty darned good second half of football this past weekend. We have to continue to do that." – General Manager Ryan Grigson