Colts Beat Tennessee, 23-20, to Secure No. 3 Seed in 2010 AFC Playoffs
INDIANAPOLIS – Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell didn't know – didn't want to know.
As for the players, a few said they did, and others didn't, but late in the regular-season finale Sunday, the overall feeling was whatever the circumstances elsewhere in the AFC South, and whatever the playoff scenario, the Colts just, plain needed to win.
Which is just what they did.
Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes, and the Colts' defense again was stout against the run, but it was Adam Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal as time expired that gave the Colts a 23-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans Sunday in front of 67,188 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"It's a good feeling when you look up and it's going through the middle," Vinatieri said.
The victory didn't technically give the Colts the AFC South title.
That had been clinched minutes before, when the Houston Texans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 34-17, in Houston, Texas, but with the victory, the Colts ended the season on a four-game, playoff-clinching winning streak.
It also made the Colts the No. 3 seed in the AFC.
"It certainly has been a unique season so far," Manning said of a season in which the Colts won the South despite finishing the season with players such as tight end Dallas Clark, wide receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie, safeties Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt and cornerback Jerraud Powers on injured reserve.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs to the season. I guess it's just a good example of perseverance. It's a different type of season than what we've been through lately and just a credit to everybody – the coaches and the players – for continuing to work, for continuing to have a positive attitude and believe. It's just a good way to finish the regular season off."
The Colts (10-6), as the third seed, will play host to the No. 6 seed New York Jets (11-5), at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday at 8 p.m. The Jets made the playoffs as a wild-card team.
The Colts beat the Jets in the AFC Championship Game this past January.
"It was a good win – an imant win for us," Vinatieri said. "There was a lot of craziness in the last five minutes – extremely crazy, the way it turned out – but we'll take it. We'll definitely take it.
"Every win is important," Vinatieri added, "but this one felt pretty good."
The Colts, who won the South for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, with the victory also tied the 1975-83 Dallas Cowboys' NFL record of nine consecutive post-season appearances.
The Colts have won at least 10 games in each of the last nine seasons, the second-best streak in NFL history.
"It's pretty special," Colts 10-year right tackle Ryan Diem said. "It shows the consistency of the guys we have here – the core we've had during all that time. It's a special group and cool to be a part of it. None of them are easy. I don't care if you're 14-0, or at one point this year, we were 6-6. They're all hard. Every week is hard. It's hard to win in this league.
"It's a special feeling to do it again and to do it nine consecutive times, that's pretty awesome."
Diem said while he had heard late in the game that Houston was ahead by a few scores, he added, "It didn't matter."
"We didn't want to back our way into this thing," Diem said. "It would have been disappointing to lose this one and have that kind of cloud hanging over our heads heading into the playoffs."
The victory capped a dramatic late-season run for the Colts, who were in second-place in the division in early December following a 38-35 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. They beat the Titans in Nashville four days later, then beat the Jaguars, 34-24, the following week to move back into first place.
After a 31-26 victory at Oakland last week, they entered Sunday needing either a victory or Jaguars loss to clinch the division.
"It's good for us to put a few back-to-back," Caldwell said. "We had not gone through a quarter yet where we were 4-0. That was something that was important to us, because we had to, obviously. We had no choice. The guys didn't succumb to the pressure.
"There was not a time during that stretch when I ever sensed they were in a panic. They took it in stride."
Vinatieri's kick capped a wild late-game sequence, one that began when Colts running back Dominic Rhodes committed the game's first turnover with just under two minutes remaining. Titans safety Michael Griffin recovered Rhodes' fumble at the Titans 43 and returned it to the Colts 37.
That gave Tennessee a first down with 1:34 remaining.
When Chris Johnson rushed for three yards, the Titans had 2nd-and-7 from the Colts 34 with 1:30 left. Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas is one of the NFL's best kickers, and made a 60-yard field goal to beat Indianapolis in Tennessee in 2006.
But after a Colts timeout, Titans quarterback Kerry Collins fumbled.
Colts defensive end Robert Mathis recovered at the Colts 37.
The Colts' offense, which had last scored when Manning threw 30 yards to wide receiver Pierre Garcon to take a 20-13 lead with 9:22 remaining in the third quarter, then put together one of its best drives of the second half.
On 2nd-and-10, Manning threw 20 yards to Blair White, and two plays later, an 11-yard pass to tight end Jacob Tamme gave Indianapolis 1st-and-10 at the 25.
About 30 seconds remained. The Colts allowed the clock to drain to :03, after which Vinatieri's third goal of the game gave the Colts the victory.
"They're never the same and you never take them lightly," said Vinatieri, who won Super Bowls for the New England Patriots with late field goals following the 2001 and 2003 seasons.
Said Caldwell, "He's answered the bell so many times in his career – he's a clutch guy. He does a tremendous job. We certainly don't take him for granted."
Caldwell said while he did not know the score of the Jacksonville game, he did not believe the Colts were out of the playoffs after Rhodes' fumble.
"You don't ever give up," Caldwell said. "You never know. That's why we were using our timeouts in that situation."
Of Collins' fumble, Caldwell said, "We can't take credit for God's handiwork, that's for sure."
The Colts held the Titans to 51 yards rushing, with Johnson – the NFL's third-leading rusher entering the game and a 2,000-yard rusher a season ago – rushing for 39 yards on 20 carries. The Colts had 24 first downs to 17 for Tennessee, and Indianapolis out-rushed Tennessee, 101-51.
The Colts started solidly, with a defensive stop and efficient offensive drive giving them an early three-point lead.
The Colts drove 42 yards in 11 plays on their first possession, with Vinatieri converting a 48-yard field goal with 8:17 remaining. Bironas tied it, 3-3, with a 26-yard field goal with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter and the teams traded field goals again before Indianapolis took a seven-point lead late in the half.
On the possession after Bironas' second field goal, the Colts drove 78 yards for the game's first touchdown.
Using 10 plays, Manning drove the Colts from their 22 to the Titans 7, and on the play after the two-minute warning, he passed seven yards to wide receiver Reggie Wayne for a 13-6 Colts lead.
The Colts scored on all three of their first-half possessions.
Collins passed 21 yards to second-year wide receiver Kenny Britt to tie the game at 13-13 with 11:29 remaining in the third quarter. Manning threw his second touchdown pass on the next series, driving the Colts 76 yards on six players with a 30-yard touchdown reception by Pierre Garcon giving the Colts a 20-13 lead with 9:16 remaining in the quarter.
The Titans tied it with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Collins to running Johnson with 4:18 remaining, a play that capped a nine-play, 70-yard drive and made it, 20-20, entering the fourth quarter.
"Getting in is your ultimate goal, regardless of how you get in," Caldwell said. "It always adds a little bit of impetus and gives you a little momentum once you put together a streak like we've been on. Right now, we're in kind of a rhythm in terms of how we practice and those kinds of things.
"It's good to be able to stay in that rhythm, particularly when things have been happening on a positive note over the last four weeks."