INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are finding new ways to win ballgames in 2018.
They are winners of five straight games after their 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, with their average margin of victory on the season being more than two touchdowns (15.3 points).
Sunday's contest, however, was just the second time this year the Colts have won a one-score game, and it was a stark contrast to earlier in the season, when Indy seemingly found ways to lose and would come up short.
But on Sunday, the Colts found a way to win — and they used an enormous play on 3rd and 9 with two minutes left during a tied game to do it.
Lined up at his own 43-yard line, quarterback Andrew Luck took the shotgun snap and surveyed the field while defenders came barreling towards him from both sides. He ducked and climbed the pocket, stumbling in the process, but not without keeping his eyes downfield.
Luck launched a perfect pass across his body down the left side of the field into the waiting arms of wide receiver Chester Rogers, who advanced the ball a few more yards to the Miami 23-yard line.
Four plays later, Adam Vinatieri came on and connected on a 32-yard, game-winning field goal to send the Colts home with their fifth straight win, 27-24, to improve to 6-5 on the year.
The heroic nature of the play by Luck was only made better by the fact that his decision to throw the ball to Rogers seemed like an afterthought.
For a brief moment, it looked like Luck's momentum from stumbling may turn him into a runner on the play.
"There was a moment there where (I thought), 'Don't go down, Andrew. Come on, stay up and give our guys a chance. Let's go,' and I managed to," Luck said following the game.
Luck's head coach, Frank Reich, was just as amazed as everyone else at the outcome of that play.
"I mean, it's incredible because he starts to stumble. The human reaction is when you start to stumble you look to the ground to try to gain your balance," Reich, a former NFL quarterback himself, told reporters after the game. "All you're worried about when you start stumbling is, 'Let me regain my balance.' And for him to regain his balance, then you think you'll just regain your balance and run it, but he regains his balance, sees Chester and makes a big-time throw. That's why he is who he is."
Rogers — who Reich later admitted to reporters wasn't even in the planned progressions to start the play — was well aware of who the Colts have behind center, and just because a play may look bleak for a moment, knows it is not over until the whistle blows.
"We knew we needed a big play. Andrew has the ability to get out of the pocket and make plays happen, so we just had to stay alive the whole time," Rogers said. "I saw him make eye contact with me and I got to the open spot.
"They were in zone, so they had their eyes on the quarterback," Rogers recalled. "So, in the zone if you get lost around the defenders, you find the open hole, and that's how I was able to get open."
The play set the Colts up to completely control the remaining minute and a half of the game. Three Nyheim Hines carries later, and Indy had the ball at the Dolphins' 14-yard line with three seconds on the clock — and the greatest kicker in NFL history running onto the field to attempt the game-winner from 32 yards out.
The kick is up, and it is good.
"Not a doubt in my mind. I knew he was gonna make it," Rogers said about Adam Vinatieri after the game. "He missed the first one, but I knew when the game was on the line AV was gonna come through. So we just had to get him in position and that's what we did."
After dropping three one-score games in the first half of the season, Rogers said it's nice for the Colts to hold on and capture a couple close victories down the stretch.
"I think it just shows the type of team that we are. The first few games of the season helped build us for this type of game," Rogers said. "We had a few losses and found out the type of team that we were and knew the situation. So, (now) I feel like we're back in our groove and we're not gonna stop fighting. We're gonna keep making plays."
Reich sees Sunday's win as a nice mark off of a checklist, but something that doesn't diminish what still lies ahead for this Colts team.
"Usually, you have to go through things, and we've gone through 'em," Reich said. "We've still got a lot to go through, and this was one of 'em. This was one of the things you've gotta go through, to play a game like this and to win it, but we've got a lot of football left."