INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts were 1-1 in the second quarter of the season with a 35-9 loss at the New York Jets and a 17-13 win over Cleveland.
A look at games seven and eight of the 2012 season.
Game 7: COLTS 19, TENNESSEE 13 (OT)
Dick Fosbury burst into the public's mind in 1968 with his revolutionary method of clearing the high jump bar.
Vick Ballard was not alive then and though he may have used the technique himself growing up, it is unlikely he even knew Fosbury's name.
Leave it to Bruce Arians to bring Fosbury's name back into light, and he did it to describe how Ballard ended a compelling 19-13 overtime win by leaping into the end zone at Tennessee.
The Colts had started the season with a "L-W-L-W-L-W" succession, failing twice on road games and bolstering the season's record by being successful at home.
This Colts team was not as concerned with the 10-game franchise road losing streak as it was in having failed twice in 2012. That all ended with late heroics in regulation when Ballard went airborne.
The Colts never led once in regulation, but kept grinding away. Tennessee took a 3-0 lead midway through the first period when Rob Bironas hit a 39-yard field goal and all but 1:06 of the period was extinguished when the Colts responded.
A 12-play drive reached the Titans four before fizzling, and Adam Vinatieri hit a 20-yard field goal to square the divisional battle. It was a contest that remained tightly-contested all day.
The first half had six total possessions, and Tennessee scored again on its third with one minute to play when Matt Hasselbeck hit Kendall Wright on a 23-yard pass. The Colts moved in their no-huddle attack from their 19 to the Tennessee 19, but Adam Vinatieri had a 37-yard field goal blocked at the gun.
Each team had 11 first downs, while Tennessee led in yards (173-171), rushing yards (54-49), passing yards (127-126) and scrimmage plays (30-29). The Colts were hanging tough on the road.
Vinatieri brought the Colts within 10-6 with a 44-yard field goal 4:40 into the third quarter. The Colts averted a problem when Tennessee missed a field goal after intercepting Luck.
The Titans missed a key opportunity to put the Colts in difficult shape early in the final quarter. Moving from their 20 to the Colts' nine behind 35 rushing yards from Chris Johnson and two Hasselbeck completions, Tennessee could go further and settled for a field goal with 10:26 remaining.
Luck moved the Colts to a tie, hitting six-of-eight passes for 62 yards. The last completion was to rookie LaVon Brazill, the fifth target on the drive, and the Colts had a fourth-and-one at the Tennessee eight with 4:11 to go.
Delone Carter came off the bench to burst for seven yards, then tied the game a play later with a one-yard run.
Tennessee moved to the Colts' 41 with one minute left then punted, and the game reached overtime.
Winning the toss, Arians played for the win, and his team executed. It moved 80 yards on nine plays, starting with six Donald Brown rushes for 39 yards. Luck found Reggie Wayne on third down for 20 yards to the Tennessee 16, where Ballard took the spotlight.
On second down, Arians, a self-described "gambler" called a play named "fake-toss-39-taxi-naked-right-screen-left" which basically had Luck roll right before throwing a screen across the field to Ballard.
Why wouldn't it work? Arians had seen a college team use it a few years earlier, so he filed it in his mental rolodex.
The play clicked and moving toward the pylon with a convoy of blockers ahead and Titans in pursuit, Ballard executed a perfect Fosbury Flop for the winner. It was the only time the Colts led all day.
"It was elation (after the win). These guys fought their tails off," said Arians. "They've been practicing (hard), and doing everything (right). They're a resilient bunch of kids. You can't say enough about them. They feel great about themselves. I think the belief that, 'Hey, we really are a contender,' is starting to come. We play to win."
With his father in attendance and seeing his son's first touchdown, Ballard had fun with the moment afterward.
"I called it, 'Getting in the end zone.' The game was on the line. We practiced that play a couple of times this week. When B.A. called it on the sideline, I knew it was a good play. I guess they were expecting the run. The screen was off a run play. I guess we set it up nice and it worked out for us. (I wasn't sure I scored) because the back of my head hit the pylon. I was looking at the sky. The referee said, 'Touchdown,' so I said, 'Touchdown,' too."
Turning point: Going for the tie in regulation on fourth down paid dividends when Delone Carter gained seven yards. The touchdown got things into overtime, and it showed the aggressive nature of Arians. "I guess being a quarterback (growing up in college is where I got that nature)," said Arians. "I play golf the same way, no risk it, no biscuit. I'm never going to lay up. I hit a lot of balls in the water. I guess that's just who I am and who I always have been. We play to win, all out. I try to live every day that way. No guts, no blue chips."
Arians never stopped repeating the Pagano message, and players started loving the nature of an interim leader who now had led three wins.
"B.A. is not afraid to roll the dice. You go for it. You love that as a player because you know the coach has confidence in you. He's got confidence in us to go out and make plays. He'll give you the chance and give us opportunities and it's up to us to make the best of them," said Joe Reitz.
Moment to remember: The singular moment in a tight battle was Ballard's diving score. It was spontaneous and decisive, a move splashed across countless replays. "It's going to be all over ESPN," said Antoine Bethea. "It was just a great call at that time and a great effort by him taking off at the five-yard-line and making that play. We have been saying that some young guys have to step up and make some plays. (Andrew) Luck made some plays, DA (Donnie Avery) made some good catches, and then Vick (Ballard) at the end of the game making a (heck) of a play."
Note: Luck (.571, 4-3) set the rookie mark for the highest winning percentage to a top overall pick through week eight in history. The Colts held Chris Johnson to 99 rushing yards. It was the club's first overtime win since 2004, and it broke a long road losing streak. The Colts rushed for a season-high 178 yards. Vinatieri became the eighth NFL kicker with 400 career field goals. Jerrell Freeman led the team in tackles for a seventh straight game.
*Quote to note: *"If we were to believe all of the writers and all of the naysayers, we would be 0-5 or 0-7 right now. Nobody picked us to win this game, but we don't give a (hoot) about none of that, man. The men in this locker room are going to fight every week. We are going to go out there and play great team ball. We got one on the road, tough environment, hostile environment, but we didn't break. We might have bent a little bit, but we didn't break. We had an opportunity, got the ball in the overtime, and went down there and scored. It showed the heart of this team, and I am very proud of my teammates right now." – Cory Redding
Game 8: COLTS 23, MIAMI 20
The Colts and Dolphins, both 4-3, were meeting in a key match near mid-season, and both teams came in with momentum.
The Colts had won consecutive games, and Miami owned three straight wins. Though some outsiders cited longer winning streaks historically for Indianapolis and downplayed this one, Dwight Freeney differed.
"That's a stack. That's a welcomed stack," said Freeney. "It's momentum, no matter how you want to dice it up. Winning two games, it hasn't happened as often as people thought. We had our years when we ran seven straight. I remember a period of time, my first five or six years, we would be 5-0, 6-0, 7-0. Back-to-back, it does feel good, and it's not easy. A stack is a stack."
The AFC playoff race was taking shape. Houston (6-1), New England (5-3), Baltimore (5-3) and Denver (4-3) led the divisions, while Pittsburgh joined the Colts and Dolphins at 4-3. Winning to keep ahead of the pack was critical.
As the team readied to take the field, Interim coach Bruce Arians called the players up and sprung a visitor.
"I'd called everybody up for the prayer and said, 'Open up the back door.' We never do that," said Arians. "They looked, and Chuck (Pagano) came through the door.
"When they finally saw him, it was great. He was great. It was great to see him."
Pagano had a particular message for his troops.
"You can't control the circumstances. You're dealt a hand, and you play it out. It was going to take all 60 minutes with all 53 guys. That's what he said," said Arians.
At 3-1 at home with all but one game decided in the last minute, the Colts needed the boost. The teams split the game's first 20 points before Miami took a 17-13 lead at halftime.
The Dolphins scored on their first three possessions behind rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill threw for a score, while Reggie Bush broke off an 18-yard scoring run. Andrew Luck hit Reggie Wayne for a score and Adam Vinatieri hit two field goals, the last one coming seven seconds before the break.
The first-half offensive bonanza featured 28 combined first downs and 505 net yards offense. Luck was 19-of-28 for 273 yards, while Tannehill was 10-of-14 for 158 yards. Impressively, the Colts converted six-of-nine third downs against the NFL's stingiest such defense. Luck was seven-of-nine for 108 yards and one touchdown on third downs, converting six completions into first downs.
The score remained unchanged until the Colts moved 82 yards late in the third quarter. Completions of 15 and 19 yards on third-and-six and third-and-16 set up Luck for the payoff, a 36-yard strike to T.Y. Hilton for a 20-17 lead with 1:49 left in the period.
After Miami tied the contest following a red zone stop by the Colts, Luck converted two more third downs with completions to move the Colts from their six to the Miami 25. Vinatieri hit a 43-yard field goal with 5:58 remaining.
The defense responded late as it did against Cleveland, stopping Miami at its 45 on downs with 1:37 to go. The Colts drained the clock to move to 5-3, creating playoff race separation it would not lose the rest of the season.
The Indianapolis offensive line forged through the game with injuries meaning the insertion of new faces in the lineup. Luck appreciated how new teammates responded.
"Guys will go down and it's the next man up," said Luck. "I couldn't be more proud of A.Q. Shipley coming in there and showing up, (first the) Green Bay game and now this one. He shows up and does a (heck) of a job. Bradley Sowell coming in at right tackle. Such is the nature of football and guys on the team realize it."
Turning point: Time after time, Luck delivered against a defense that led the league by only allowed a 26 percent conversion rate on third downs. Luck hit 13-of-17 third-down passes for 204 yards, a 135.4 rating. Six different receivers caught third-down passes. Luck was not intercepted, was sacked but once and threw for an NFL rookie record 433 yards. Pick one play? Just enjoy his third-down performance.
*Moment to remember: *Chuck Pagano made a surprise post-game visit after the win to congratulate his victorious team. His address to the team was one of the special moments of the year: "I mentioned before the game that you guys are living in vision, and you weren't living in circumstances," said Pagano. "You know where they (outside observers) had us in the beginning, every last one of them. But you refused to live in circumstances, and you decided consciously as a team and as a family to live in a vision. That's why you bring things home like you brought home today. That's why you're already champions and well on your way. I've got circumstances. You guys understand it. I understand it. It's (his leukemia) already beat. It's already beat. I'm living to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings, then hoist that Lombardi (Trophy) several times. … We'll hoist that trophy together."
Note: Luck broke Cam Newton's NFL rookie record of 432 passing yards. His .625 winning percentage (5-3) set the league mark by a top overall pick through week nine (minimum two starts). His 273 first-half yards were the fourth-most in franchise history. Reggie Wayne's scoring reception was his 76th career touchdown, moving him past Edgerrin James into third place in Colts history. Donnie Avery (108) and T.Y. Hilton (102) both topped 100 reception yards. Robert Mathis had a sack in an eighth straight game, tying his personal-best. Dwight Freeney had a sack to move his career total to 104.5. Mathis became the 14th player in franchise history to participate in 100 or more regular-season victories.
*Quote to note: *"Probably an 'A,' said Arians of the grade he would give Luck through eight games. "His overall performance has been outstanding. He's kept us in games. He's won games. The way he has played in the two-minute phase of the game and the no-huddle phase now has been way beyond his years. I thought the last two games (Tennessee, Miami), he's been dynamite on third down. That was one of the areas we were targeting to improve." – Bruce Arians
*Quote to note (2): *Hearing Luck gave himself a "C" grade, said Arians, "(Laughs) That doesn't surprise me one bit. He's comparing him to himself. I'm comparing him all the rest of the guys I've ever had."