Late-Game Success Happens Because of Poise, Practice and Preparation, Caldwell Says
INDIANAPOLIS – A day later, Jim Caldwell said he was not shocked.
Caldwell, in his first season as the Colts' head coach, said he has seen the franchise rally late in games often enough – and has seen enough memorable fourth-quarter performances by nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning – that he is a little past being surprised.
None of which means he takes them for granted.
And he said it does not mean the games are not special, but Caldwell – a Colts assistant from 2002-08 – said around the Colts while games such as a Monday's come-from-behind victory in South Florida are hardly considered routine, neither are they considered flukes.
They come about for a reason, Caldwell said.
And he said the reasons run pretty deep.
"It's been a culture around here of having poise and confidence," Caldwell said Tuesday afternoon, a day after the Colts rallied twice in the fourth quarter for a 27-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.
"We have that kind of poise and confidence primarily because of the way we practice. Week in and week out, we operate the same drills pretty much all the time – the same two-minute operation. The guys have a lot of confidence in terms of what we do in those crucial moments of the ball game."
Manning, the NFL's Most Valuable Player three of the past six regular seasons, completed 14 of 23 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns, leading two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
The Colts, who held possession for just 14:53 – the least amount of time of possession for a winning NFL team since 1977 – had the ball three times in the second half. On their one third-quarter possession, they lost a yard and punted.
Their two fourth quarter possessions:
• Six plays, 79 yards, a 15-yard game-tying touchdown run by rookie Donald Brown.
• Four plays, 80 yards, a 48-yard game-winning touchdown pass from Manning to second-year WR Pierre Garcon.
Garcon's touchdown came with 3:18 remaining, after which Miami used 14 plays to move to the Colts 30 before safety Antoine Bethea intercepted Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington in the end zone on the final play of the game.
The victory was the 37th fourth-quarter or overtime victory of Manning's career. While speaking after the game of passing John Unitas for first place on the franchise's all-time victory list for a starting quarterback (119), Manning talked of that being a team honor.
Caldwell said Tuesday that was true, and said much of the late-game, come-from-behind success can be attributed to a work ethic that he said pre-dates either himself or his predecessor, Tony Dungy.
"Over the years, it's kind of been something that has been developed here," Caldwell said. "Tony used to always talk about it, that when he came it was here and understood quite well. He always credited (former Indianapolis Head Coach) Jim Mora and (President) Bill Polian and the rest of the group with instilling an ability to work hard and consistently work hard with poise on the practice field day in and day out.
"When we came (in 2002), that was one of the things Tony didn't have to preach about. It was there. It was instilled. You have to look at the leadership core, too. They do a great job keeping that going."
The Colts on Monday won not only despite a major time-of-possession disadvantage, but also despite allowing 239 yards rushing on 49 carries. But the Dolphins managed just two touchdowns, with the Colts three times limiting Miami to field goals after drives of nine or more plays.
"They certainly did a good job of getting us out of sorts with the Wildcat, and also with the normal offense as well," Caldwell said. "We were able to kind of hang in there, slow them down and make them kick field goals in crucial situations."
The timely defense, and an offense that produced 17 points on three possessions of less than a minute, created a statistically unusual victory, Caldwell said.
"We certainly took advantage of the opunities we had," Caldwell said. "They had eight possessions. We had eight possessions. The time of possession obviously was a lot different, but some of that can be attributed to the fact that . . . there were a couple of quick drives there. Nevertheless, we took advantage of our opportunities. We scored three touchdowns and two field goals; they scored two touchdowns and three field goals. That was the difference in the game.
"It gets skewed a little but because of the fact we had some big plays and some pretty fast drives. That kind of throws it out of whack a little bit."
And Caldwell said while such unusual victories are . . . well, not particularly unusual . . . around the Colts, that does not mean they are routine. Not even close.
"We don't take anything for granted," Caldwell said. "I'm going to tell you that. We've had some great performances by our players that have gotten us in position to win those games, but do I believe we have an opportunity to win every game we're in? I think we all do."