INDIANAPOLIS – In a sport where every season has its own identity, the Colts have fashioned an 8-1 record in games decided by seven points or less.
Sunday's 27-23 victory over Tennessee was another such effort, and it was the club's sixth win this year in the fourth quarter or overtime.
It was the 125th time in Reggie Wayne's regular-season career that he has been a part of a win. The eldest Colts player knows this readies the club for the future, but he would not mind not always taking the comeback route.
"It'd be nice to not have one of these every once in a while," said Wayne. "One thing it does, it gets us ready. If we are lucky enough to get in the playoffs, it gets us battle-tested.
"We know if we do get down, we're capable of coming back. We've witnessed that quite a bit this year. Hopefully, we can continue to learn from it."
A week after erasing a late 12-point deficit in a 35-33 win at Detroit, the Colts trailed by 13 at halftime against Tennessee before scoring two quick touchdowns to re-take the lead, 21-20.
After a Tennessee field goal early in the final quarter, two Adam Vinatieri field goals produced the win. The outcome was decided when the offense converted a late first down to drain the final 2:42 off the clock.
Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians said this week he expected no wide margins in games this year, and his early-week comment held true again.
"It's a great team win," said Arians, in upping his record to 8-2 while subbing for Chuck Pagano. "Like I've said, there won't be any blowouts with this team. This team's too young."
Arians presided over a 30-27 comeback win over Green Bay after the team trailed, 21-3. Last week, the Colts scored two touchdowns in the last 2:39 on 85- and 75-yard drives. It is a matter of mastering the moment.
"That's exactly what it is. The guys have a great resolve about themselves," said Arians. "It was a 60-minute game. There was no panic at halftime down 13 like we were. We've come back from down 18 points. We came back from down 12 last week. It's just, 'Make the next play.' "
After the teams traded touchdowns Sunday, the Titans rolled to 13 second-quarter points and stifled the Indianapolis offense.
After rushing 10 times for 12 yards in the first half, the Colts had a balanced drive to start the second half, rushing on eight of 14 plays to cut the score to 20-14 on a one-yard Delone Carter rush.
After two turnovers dropped the club's ratio to minus-18 on the year, cornerback Cassius Vaughn intercepted a Jake Locker pass and returned it three yard for a touchdown and a one-point lead moments later. Tennessee started the drive at its one-yard line following a 52-yard Pat McAfee punt.
Cornerback Darius Butler intercepted Locker again, and that takeaway accounted for Vinatieri's second field goal with 3:53 to go. Arians loved the situational play when it needed to occur.
"There's no doubt. In crunch time our defense has been outstanding throughout the whole season," said Arians. "When the defense has bailed us out, the offense has responded and helped them. That's why I say it's such a team win for us."
Indianapolis moved to 9-4 with the win, a seven-game improvement from last season. Twice the team has had one-season eight-game improvements – from 2-12 in 1974 to 10-4 in 1975 and from 1-15 in 1991 to 9-7 in 1992.
Those are tied for the seventh-best one-year jumps in history. The 1999 Colts and 2008 Dolphins share the NFL mark with a one-year 10-game jump. The Colts went from 3-13 in 1998 to 13-3.
With Cincinnati and Pittsburgh losing on Sunday, the Colts are within grasp of the playoffs. Even with losses in the three remaining games against Houston (twice) and Kansas City, it would take Pittsburgh and Cincinnati winning every game while tying each other in the remaining head-to-head game on December 23.
As has been the story this year, the team pieced together a solid half to earn a win. A full 60-minute solid effort has yet to come, according to Wayne.
"I haven't seen it yet. I'm eager to see it," said Wayne. "Whenever we do that, we're going to score a lot of points offensively. We still have to find a way to do it. We haven't done that yet. For some strange reason, we still find ways to win games. We'll watch the film and make corrections. Next week would be a great time to do that."