INDIANAPOLIS — Call it what you want as long as you call it a win.
The Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos had a knock-down, drag-out fight of a game on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, with the Colts ultimately coming out victorious, 15-13.
In a game that was the very definition of a defensive struggle, however, it was some late heroics by Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett, as well as kicker Adam Vinatieri, that made the difference on this particular afternoon.
"Huge win — resilient win," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "What we just talked about in there was you've got to show you can win every kind of game in every kind of way. We hung in there today. It wasn't always pretty, and hung in right until the very end."
Without a lead for the first 59 1/2 minutes of the game, the host Colts (5-2) put together a seven-play, 56-yard drive with less than two minutes remaining in the contest, punctuated by a vintage, 51-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri to finally take the lead and claim the victory.
After the Colts’ defense forced a Broncos punt, Indy took over at its own 11-yard line, down 13-12, with no timeouts remaining and needing a field goal to take the lead. Right away, the Colts produced some much needed fireworks.
Brissett took the shotgun snap, but was met with pressure by Broncos All-Pro sack artist, Von Miller. Miller wrapped Brissett up around the waist and swung him backward while teammate Derek Wolfe helped pressure Brissett back into his own end zone.
But Brissett somehow stayed upright and rolled out to his right, keeping his eyes downfield and finding wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a toe-tapping, 35-yard connection down the right sideline. After an official review, referee Walt Anderson confirmed that Hilton managed to keep possession of the ball and get both feet in bounds, moving the ball all the way to the Colts' 46-yard line with just more than 90 seconds remaining.
Brissett's never-say-die attitude on the play elicited a loud roar from the home crowd.
“I honestly didn’t care. I was just like, ‘There’s no way I’m going down,’” Brissett told reporters after the game about his ability to get away from Miller. “Just knowing, 'What’s the worst that’s gonna happen to me? They sack me and get the safety?' They would still gotta go down and score anyways, so just playing free and laying it all out there.”
The other key on that play was Hilton's ability to know his quarterback was scrambling, get open and make such a tough catch along the sideline.
“It was just so funny, he just makes those plays and it’s just like effortlessly,” Brissett said of Hilton. “I just know when we came back and we’re on the sideline when we’re getting ready for the field goal and I’m just like, ‘T.Y., please tell me, how did you do that?’ And he just does it. He’s like, ‘That’s just me,’ and I was like, ‘You’re right. That is you.’”
Needing just a couple more quality gains to get into Vinatieri’s field goal range, the Colts’ options opened up as they sat near midfield.
Two plays after Brissett and Hilton’s connection, a modest, five-yard reception by running back Nyheim Hines turned into a 20-yard gain after Broncos linebacker Alexander Johnson was flagged for a horse collar tackle on the running back, grabbing him between the shoulders and driving him out of bounds.
The Colts then held the ball at Denver’s 34-yard line with 1:29 left on the clock. With the ball relatively deep in Broncos’ territory, it became time to just focus on picking up positive yardage, not making any mistakes and then letting Vinatieri do what he does best.
But Colts head coach Frank Reich felt he may have one more ace up his sleeve before totally melting the clock.
"Yeah, I had all the confidence Adam was gonna make it. Didn’t want to take a chance — we threw it on first down, we called a naked (boot leg), and they covered it up pretty well. I thought we could sneak one in there and get some big yards on it,” Reich said about possibly having a big play on deck. “Once we didn’t get that, I wasn’t gonna take a chance on a sack or a holding penalty that would put us out of field goal range, so I just run it twice and let Adam win the game."
After a timeout by the Broncos with 1:13 left in the game, the Colts ran Marlon Mack up the middle twice to try and get the clock down as far as possible before it was time for Vinatieri to take center stage.
As the ball sat at Denver’s 33-yard line, Vinatieri jogged onto the field having missed a field goal and an extra point earlier in the game, but with a clean slate in front of him and an opportunity to let the Colts leave Lucas Oil Stadium as winners.
He absolutely drilled it.
With just 22 seconds remaining in the game, Vinatieri’s 51-yard field goal gave the Colts their first lead of the game, putting them up 15-13.
On the ensuing drive, the Broncos could only muster two plays as Colts’ rookie defensive end Ben Banogu flew in from behind to slam quarterback Joe Flacco for a sack and forced fumble, which ended the game and sealed the Colts’ hard-fought victory.
Although offense was hard to come by for the Colts throughout the game, the signature moment of this contest will stick out as Brissett and Hilton’s improbable play down the stretch on Indy's final drive.
“Not only to get away from Von Miller, and then to make the throw — I mean, there’s probably a couple guys in the league that can make that play? Maybe a couple quarterbacks in the league that can make that play? But we’ve got one of them,” Reich said about Brissett’s impressive playmaking ability. “‘Cause that’s two-fold; it’s get away from Von Miller, in the end zone, and then the throw, the throw was stinkin’ impressive — on the run, to the right, getting it that far down the field in-bounds to T.Y. Huge play by Jacoby.”
“It was a perfect throw, man. It was a perfect throw — perfect, on the money,” Hilton said. “He’s one of those guys you always have to stay alive for. He will get out of the pocket and make those type of throws.”