Three Fourth-Quarter Touchdowns Propel Colts to Victory
For five straight weeks, the Indianapolis Colts have trailed headed into the fourth quarter.
And for the fifth week in a row, the Colts came back to win in the final period.
But Sunday's 35-27 victory was even more significant. The Colts' win – coupled with a Jacksonville Jaguars loss at San Francisco – clinched the team's sixth AFC South crown in seven seasons. And it extended the Colts' streak of consecutive playoff appearances to eight, the NFL's longest active streak.
Despite trailing by 13 points at halftime, despite the Houston Texans' best effort and despite just about everything else – the Colts turned in a clockwork-like comeback on Sunday thanks to a resilient effort on both sides of the ball.
The road victory keeps the Colts undefeated this season and marks yet another week in which the team was able to put together a furious finish to win the game.
With so much experience to draw on from this season alone, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said his team was able to make the necessary adjustments at halftime and keep the cool and collected demeanor he called a "hallmark of our teams for years."
"To be honest with you, it wasn't different than any other halftime," Caldwell said. "Whether we win or lose, we make adjustments the exact same way. We typically point to the issues and what we would like to do in the second half, and our guys have been pretty resilient. They find a way to come out and get the job done."
Rather than using examples of games in the past, Caldwell said the Colts' younger players now know plenty about playing in pressure-packed games since they have played such a large role in several such contests this season.
"We've had some opportunities for the younger guys to experience some this year," Caldwell said. "You are behind, you have to play well, play steady and just take one play at a time to get us back into this deal. They've been able to do that, and they do a good job of emulating the older guys. And now, they understand what it takes."
While the offense produced three second-half touchdowns, the Colts' defense played just as large of a role in the second half. The unit held the Texans to just one score after halftime, a touchdown with under 20 seconds to play, and came up with several other timely stops throughout the game.
"As a defense, we are stepping up," linebacker Gary Brackett said. "Every week it is someone different, and that's exciting to see."
This week, it was linebacker Clint Session, safety Antoine Bethea and defensive ends Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock with the big plays.
After the Colts took the lead for the first time on tight end Dallas Clark's six-yard touchdown grab with 8:24 remaining in the fourth quarter, linebacker Clint Session intercepted Houston quarterback Matt Schaub's pass attempt and sprinted 27 yards the other way for the touchdown with 8:09 left. It was Session's first score of his career.
"We had a good rush and (Schaub) didn't have much time to (throw), so I just read something and came away with an interception," Session said.
The score put the Colts up eight points, but Indianapolis' defense was not done making plays.
With the Houston offense driving later in the fourth quarter, and within a touchdown of the lead, Mathis stripped Schaub of the ball – his fifth forced fumble of the season – and Brock pounced on the ball to force the Texans' drive to come to a screeching halt.
"We are always calm," Brackett said. "Unfortunately, we've been (down) before. But things work out. We make a couple of adjustments, switch a couple of things up, and it worked."
Bethea's big play came midway through the third quarter when he intercepted a Schaub pass of his own. The pick came shortly after wide receiver Reggie Wayne scored a four-yard touchdown to cut the Texans' lead to six with 11:20 in the third quarter, and it seemed to mark a shift in the game's momentum.
Up to that point, Schaub had been near perfect.
After both teams traded scoreless possessions, the Colts got the ball back with just over 11 minutes to play. But facing a deficit was nothing new for the Colts, and Caldwell said the team did not panic.
On the first play of the drive, Manning hit running back Joseph Addai for a four-yard pass over the middle, only to have Addai hit hard as soon as he caught the ball and be rocked to the ground.
Fortunately, the sure-handed back held on to the catch, and more importantly, the possession.
"We felt like (the Houston defense) was kind of excited," Manning said of the hit. "So we quick snapped and went deep on them right away."
Manning found rookie wide receiver Austin Collie deep for a 31-yard gain to move the Colts to midfield. A few plays later, the Colts were inside Houston's red zone, and Manning hit Clark for the go-ahead score.
Less than a minute later, Session scored his touchdown. Six minutes after that, running back Chad Simpson ran 23 yards up the middle for the team's third touchdown of the quarter to give the Colts a 35-20 lead.
The Texans scored once more, but tight end Jacob Tamme slapped Houston's onside-kick attempt out-of-bounds, sealing the victory for the Colts with 18 seconds remaining.
After the game, Caldwell said the Colts, who have won 20 consecutive regular-season games, are not a team to ever count out of a ballgame.
"When things don't look good, we don't have any panic on the sidelines. We all feel good. We all know it has to get better, but we don't have anyone who gets down or counts themselves out any point in the game," he said.
"It is something that is special about our group."
• The Colts had one of their best games on the ground all season Sunday, rushing the ball 23 times for 114 yards (5.0 yards per carry). Running back Joseph Addai finished with 15 carries for 69 yards.
• With defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Keyunta Dawson missing Sunday's game, the Colts re-signed defensive end Josh Thomas earlier this week. The sixth-year veteran, who played with the team earlier in the season, finished with three tackles against the Texans. "It was fun to be back," Thomas said. "Everything was crazy. A week ago, I was sitting watching the game on my couch. Luckily, I was able to come in and contribute today."