Colts Rally in Second Half to Beat San Francisco 49ers, 18-14, at Lucas Oil Stadium
INDIANAPOLIS – Dallas Clark had a feeling it might go like this.
The rest of the Indianapolis Colts agreed with their seventh-year tight end – that throughout this past week, there was something about the San Francisco 49ers on film that whatever the venue made a fifth consecutive one-sided victory unlikely.
The Colts, as it turned out, were right.
Peyton Manning, the Colts' nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback, did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season, and afterward, called the day a "grinder." But Manning said what was imant Sunday afternoon wasn't appearance, but that the AFC South-leading Colts (7-0) found a way to stay unbeaten with an 18-14 victory over the 49ers (3-4) in front of 66,229 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"It was one of those days," said Manning, who completed 31 of 48 passes for 347 yards – his sixth 300-plus-yard game in seven games this season – and no touchdowns with no interceptions.
"We kind of call it a grinder, where you keep kind of grinding it out, and fortunately our defense kept them from scoring a lot. We were able to keep the game close. . . .
"There wasn't a whole lot of offensive rhythm out there. It was just kind of a grind."
The Colts, who played four of the first six games on the road and who last played at home on the first week of October, had won four consecutive games by double-digits.
On Sunday, they never led by more than four and didn't lead until the fourth quarter.
Afterward there was little talk of streaks, or of history.
Mostly, the Colts said, they were pleased to beat a team that was as tough as they anticipated.
"We've had some good ones here lately where we'd kind of get control of it early," Clark said after the first game since Week 2 in which the Colts did not win by double digits.
"This definitely wasn't one of those cases. We kind of had a feeling coming into it. You had a feel that this was a team that keeps it close. Their defense gives them chances for their offense to win it at the end. . . . We were able to kind of play with them.
"It was a grind. It took all four quarters to finally get it going."
The Colts, who trailed at halftime for the first time this season, cut a 14-9 halftime deficit to 14-12 after the third period. They took their first lead seven seconds into the final quarter, with running back Joseph Addai throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
A two-point conversion pass failed, and the closest the 49ers came to scoring the rest of the game was on the ensuing series.
The 49ers drove to the Indianapolis 35, but defensive end Robert Mathis sacked 49ers quarterback Alex Smith for an eight-yard loss that took San Francisco out of field-goal range.
The 49ers failed to move past their 30 on their final possession.
"Our defense sort of rose to the occasion when we needed it most," said Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, who became the first first-year head coach in NFL history to start 7-0.
Caldwell said being 7-0 means little personally, and that the "most important thing for us is the next game, adding of the victory over the 49ers, "It was a tough battle."
"(49ers Head Coach) Mike Singletary certainly had his team ready to play," Caldwell said. "They played hard and played well. They had a good plan against us. It was a tight, tough game, but you find a way to win it. Our guys hung in there, came through and made some big plays. They certainly performed well down the stretch."
With the victory, the Colts became one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL, and the only unbeaten team in the AFC. The Denver Broncos lost for the first time this season Sunday, 30-7, to the Baltimore Ravens. The New Orleans Saints are unbeaten in the NFC and play Atlanta Monday.
The Colts also remained two-and-a-half games over Houston (5-3) in the AFC South. The Texans have won their last three games, including a 31-10 victory Sunday at Buffalo.
The Colts will play host to the Texans Sunday.
The Colts also extended their franchise-record regular-season winning streak to 16 games, becoming the eighth team in NFL history with a streak that long. New England holds the record with 21 consecutive victories from 2006-08.
Only three teams have won 17 or more consecutive regular-season games.
The Colts also extended their NFL-record streak of winning at least seven consecutive games in six consecutive seasons. They have done so each season since 2004.
This is the fourth time in five seasons they have started the season 7-0. They started 13-0 in 2005, 9-0 in 2006 and 7-0 in 2007, winning the AFC South title in each of those seasons.
The Colts trailed 14-9 at halftime, the first time since Week 2 they trailed after two quarters – and the first time since that week's victory over Miami they allowed a first-half touchdown.
The Colts, despite playing solid defensively much of the first half, allowed two long touchdown drives, with the first coming on the second San Francisco drive of the game. On 2nd-and-4 from the 49ers 36, running back Frank Gore took a handoff and broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage.
Sixty-four yards later, San Francisco led, 7-0.
With 3:16 remaining in the quarter, the Colts cut the lead to four with a 38-yard field goal by veteran kicker Matt Stover, who is replacing Adam Vinatieri. The Colts, after not producing a first down on their first two possessions, drove 57 yards on 10 plays on the possession, with a quick screen pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne gaining 32 yards on 3rd-and-8 from the Indianapolis 25.
A 14-yard pass to wide receiver Austin Collie on 3rd-and-9 from the 49ers 42 gained another first down and four plays later, Stover converted the field goal.
The Colts cut the lead to 7-6 on the second play of the second quarter with a 33-yard field goal by Stover, then with :33 remaining in the half, tight end Vernon Davis' eight-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Alex Smith capped an 89-yard drive and made it 14-6.
Manning drove the Colts 48 yards for a third field goal by Stover with :01 remaining in the half, and Indianapolis added a fourth field goal by Stover on the first drive of the third quarter.
That made it 14-12, 49ers. The Colts re-gained possession at the 49ers 42, on their next possession, but failed to pick up a first down. Manning called that disappointing, but on the ensuing series, they drove from their 30 to the 49ers 22 as the third quarter expired.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Addai took a handoff from Manning, started left and did what Manning later said was a "good job of selling the run." Addai then passed to Wayne in the left corner of the end zone. Addai, Clark later said, threw it a bit long to make it a bit tough on Wayne, but the three-time Pro Bowl receiver caught the ball in the end zone for the winning points of a game the Colts said was just as tough as they expected.
"San Francisco did a good job on defense, and obviously we weren't as sharp as we have been at times," Manning said. "There are definitely some areas we can improve on, but I thought we hung in there, kept fighting and made a couple of third-down conversions where we needed to and scored enough points to win."