NASHVILLE –Taking a team into a hostile divisional environment did not alter Colts Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians one bit.
Arians, who was coaching his fourth game for ill Head Coach Chuck Pagano, on Sunday marched a team featuring eight rookies, only 20 returning players and 30 players with no more than three years of league experience onto the grass surface of LP Field to face a Tennessee Titans team that was on a two-game winning streak.
That Indianapolis twice had lost on the road by double-digits did not matter. That it trailed most of the way certainly was lodged somewhere in the minds of the players and coaches, but the team found a resilience deep within and drove 80 yards for a game-tying touchdown in the waning minutes of regulation.
After winning the overtime coin flip, Arians wanted ball. He did not care about going against 11 Titans and wind gusts in the neighborhood of 20 miles per hour.
He had played to win just moments before, and it was no time to change.
Minutes earlier, he gambled on fourth-and-one at the Tennessee eight. His decision led to the tying score when Delone Carter rushed for seven yards before tallying a snap later.
Arians' motto, "We play to win."
Indianapolis matched its regulation-ending 80-yard drive with another one as the Colts produced a 19-13 win to move to 4-3.
The final score was the club's only lead of the day. It was the third fourth-quarter victory of the year. It helped ease the sting of 41-21 and 35-9 road losses at Chicago and the New York Jets, and it helped a young team move forward as it nears the season's mid-point.
"It was elation (after the win). These guys fought their tails off," said Arians to Colts Radio. "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."
Arians said a couple of weeks ago he needed to remain committed to the ground game. At New York, he diverted to a no-huddle passing attack while attempting only 17 rushes.
Indianapolis now has produced its two highest seasonal rushing totals in consecutive games.
The Colts had 148 yards a week ago in a 17-13 victory over Cleveland. After having 49 yards at halftime at Tennessee, the club amassed 122 in the last two periods in totaling 171 for the day. Indianapolis has a 4.5 average for its 71 attempts in the last two games, along with three touchdowns.
The Colts used tight end Weslye Saunders in addition to regulars Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Guard Joe Reitz, in his first action this season after knee surgery, jumped into the fray as well as the Colts were dedicated in their efforts.
"We always want to be able to run the ball, no matter what the situation is," said Allen. "It throws the defense off whenever we go play-action rather than just drop back. Coach Arians was focused on establishing the run, and I think we did that."
The overtime drive featured six straight runs by Donald Brown, who returned to action for the first time in three games. Brown gained 39 yards on the march before giving way to Vick Ballard, who has started the last three games.
Ballard scored the game-winner on a 16-yard pass from Luck, a play designed off a rushing look.
Brown rushed 14 times for 80 yards. Ballard added 55 yards on 12 carries, and the efforts were aided by an offensive line that was starting its same configuration for the third straight week.
The Colts fought uphill against Tennessee all day. The Titans scored on their first drive, and Indianapolis never got a nose ahead in the battle. The Titans had a 10-3 lead at halftime and missed a chance for another seven-point cushion with a missed field goal in the third quarter.
Indianapolis reached the Tennessee two before its first field goal. A drive to the Titans' 19 at the end of the half resulted in a blocked field goal. The Colts were intercepted in the end zone after reaching the Tennessee 32 in the third quarter.
Arians stayed true to his nature as the Colts tried to tie matters with about four minutes to go.
Allen likely spoke for many teammates when he lauded his head coach for seizing the moment.
"We play the game to win," said Allen. "He (Arians) joked about it afterwards, but that's him. That fourth-down call to go for it, 'Let's go get it.' That exemplifies the man that Bruce Arians is. In that situation, you have to play to win, just as he said, and that's what we did."
The tying drive was made possible by a Colts defense that kept Tennessee out of the end zone in the second half.
"It was huge. We talked about at halftime about getting off the field on third down," said Arians. "We have to play better first-down defense in order to get off the field on third down. We played extremely hard and tackled much better in the second half. Everybody did their job. We were able to pull it out."
Allen has been a major component to the Colts moving beyond the .500 mark for the first time since 2010. Three wins have come either in the final minute (Minnesota and Green Bay) or overtime (Tennessee). All have been dramatic.
Too young now for gray hairs, Allen is not too young to feel the emotion.
"It's stressful to hang in there and hang in there, but you can't replace the feel of winning," said Allen. "It's an amazing feeling. I feel we played well down the stretch in all three phases and were able to execute whenever it counted."
The win was a decided step forward for a team that remains "in the hunt," as Arians said after the Cleveland win. He framed the team's 3-3 record that way last week and thought there was no harm in doing so.
Now, he senses this win can help build something for another week.
"I think there's a lot of great belief in this locker room that we're somebody to be reckoned with. The guys are going to show up at practice on Wednesday really excited," said Arians.