INDIANAPOLIS — It took all 60 minutes, but the Indianapolis Colts got it done on Sunday against the New York Giants.
After trailing the entire game, the Colts dug deep and put together a game-winning drive, scoring the game-winning touchdown and extra point with 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter and wrapping up a 28-27 victory over the Giants in the final regular season game at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2018.
In what was one of those "tale of two halves" types of games for Indianapolis (9-6), but after overcoming two separate 10-point deficits, head coach Frank Reich was satisfied with the effort from his team.
"Very slow start on both sides, offense and defense. It was pretty bad to start, but we hung in there, hung in there and then came out in the second half and give our guys a lot of credit, there’s no quit," Reich said. "(It's) just a credit to the leadership in the locker room and how they’ve handled their business and just constant belief and then just making plays in the clutch in all phases."
The Colts were put in position to make their final push after punter Rigoberto Sanchez pinned New York inside its own 5-yard line with 6 1/2 minutes remaining. The Indy defense forced a three-and-out (with two Giants penalties mixed in), as punt returner Chester Rogers advanced the punt five yards to start the drive inside Giants territory.
With a hobbled T.Y. Hilton, and with Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron lost for the game due to a concussion, quarterback Andrew Luck led his troops from their own 47-yard line, down by six points, 27-21, with 3:43 remaining in the game.
With their quarterback delivering strikes with pinpoint accuracy, receivers Hilton, Dontrelle Inman and Rogers got to work. Each caught a pass before the two minute warning, mixed in with a brilliant move by Luck to climb the pocket, avoid pressure and scramble for 14 yards and a first down to get the ball deep into Giants territory.
By the the two-minute warning, the Colts were operating inside the red zone.
After a two-yard loss on a pass to running back Nyheim Hines, the offense quickly got the yardage back, and then some, on the next play on a 12-yard pickup from Luck to Hilton to get the ball to New York’s 8-yard line, setting up 1st and Goal.
Working inside the 10-yard line, Luck took a shot at the end zone, zinging one toward the right side for Inman, who drew a pass interference penalty on the play. The Colts then had 1st and Goal from the Giants’ 1-yard line.
After the call from the sidelines came in to Luck, he scanned New York's alignment and found something he didn't like. He turned to Hilton and Rogers to gauge their interest in a quick passing play, instead.
A few seconds later, the Colts had pulled even on the scoreboard as Luck zipped a pass to the left side to Rogers for the touchdown. Adam Vinatieri’s extra point would then put the Colts ahead by one point, 28-27.
“He was unbelievable the whole game. How he handled the pressure down the stretch just with the calls he was making,” Reich said of Luck. “The last play — the touchdown to Chester — I called a run, he saw something, and he checks to the pass. Great job by him. But the whole drive, he was just so poised. Never a doubt, just completely under control.”
The Colts were able to string out the eight-play drive over roughly three minutes, kicking off to New York with 55 seconds remaining and just one time out.
Somewhat reminiscent of a certain mid-2000s AFC Championship game, Giants quarterback Eli Manning picked up a couple of completions and a first down before flinging an errant pass into the waiting arms of ball-hawking Colts safety Malik Hooker.
After taking a few steps, Hooker slid to the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, giving the ball back to Luck and the offense to ice the game with the sweetest play in football: the kneel-down.
“It was special for me. Just being able to fight that game out,” Hooker said following the game. “We came out sluggish, not playing as well as we wanted to. And then being able to come back and make adjustments and play a little better and things like that, it was special for me.”
Sunday’s come-from-behind victory is another positive experience for the battle-tested Colts, who overcame some of their own issues to change the momentum in the second half.
“We were upset — all of us — coaches, players,” Reich said about the team’s mood going into halftime. “We didn’t coach well, we didn’t play well, and we dug ourselves a hole. But we just came out determined in the second half to turn things around.”
A continuing theme from Reich and the Colts coaching staff towards its players this season has been to focus on themselves and that they can only control what they can control. By focusing on the task immediately in front of them, it helped allow them to come back into the game.
“We just focused back on the little things, the fundamentals,” said Luck, who tallied the 21st game-winning drive of his career. “We kept it simple in our minds. Sometimes, things just aren’t clicking, and we’ve got to learn how to make them click and force the issue earlier.”
With the win, the Colts kept themselves very much alive in the AFC playoff race. Next week, they travel to Tennessee to take on the AFC South division rival Titans.