INDIANAPOLIS –If the club's fourth home is like any of the previous three, Colts fans will be in for another thrilling finish.
Each of the three home games to date has been decided in exciting fashion in the final minute.
Typically, if any game is decided in the final minute and 28 seconds, it would be a memorable finish. That would be the amount of time remaining on the clock if one were to add together the number of seconds left in the first three contests when the game-deciding scores happened:
September 16 – Eight seconds were left when Adam Vinatieri hit a 53-yard field goal for a 23-20 Colts win over Minnesota.
September 23 – Forty-five seconds were left when Cecil Shorts scored on an 80-yard touchdown pass as Jacksonville won, 22-17. (Indianapolis did run three plays in the final 10 seconds after reaching the Jaguars' 26.)
October 7 – Thirty-five seconds remained when Reggie Wayne scored on a four-yard touchdown pass for a 30-27 Colts win over Green Bay.
Fans attending tomorrow's game against Cleveland could be pardoned if they packed the necessary blood pressure medicine along with their Colts apparel.
This is the second straight year the Colts have hosted the Browns. The Colts are 2-3 after a 35-9 loss last week at the New York Jets. Cleveland is 1-5 after a 34-24 win last week at home over Cincinnati.
All season long at home, Colts fans have been treated to offensive exploits in Lucas Oil Stadium. In particular has been the club using its "hurry-up" offense in latter stages of action in first and second halves.
Behind quarterback Andrew Luck, Indianapolis did so twice against Minnesota, tallying a touchdown and a field goal in the win. Luck was six-of-nine for 94 yards in that attack against the Vikings, hitting Reggie Wayne on a 30-yard score prior to the half, then putting Vinatieri in range to decide the battle.
Against Jacksonville, the Colts had three "hurry-up" drives, again producing 10 points. Luck was eight-of-17 for 146 yards on those possessions. He hit Mewelde Moore on a first-half touchdown for a 14-3 advantage. The second drive led to a Vinatieri 37-yard field goal that gave Indianapolis a 17-16 lead, but Jacksonville rallied on the next scrimmage play.
Two weeks ago against Green Bay, the Colts fell behind at the half, 21-3. Indianapolis used the attack just prior to intermission, but missed a field goal. One other "hurry-up" chance yielded no points, but the Colts struck on their last opportunity to get the win. After going five-of-10 for 50 yards on the first two chances, Indianapolis was eight-of-11 for 80 yards passing in the two-minute attack, and Luck teamed with Wayne for the score.
The season passing totals at home on those eight possessions are 27-of-47 for 370 yards and three touchdowns.
Over the first five games, Indianapolis has used the offense on 14 possessions, scoring seven times. Luck has managed to find nine different receivers on those marches.
Despite last week's struggle, the overall offense is taking shape as the season unfolds. What has paid dividends was the aggressive pace the coaching staff hit players with during the spring and in training camp. Players across the board were subjected to heavy doses of instruction as the new coaching staff expected results right off the bat.
No player was spoon fed, all were deluged. The staff's plan was not to rebuild, it was to attack, and that full immersion into the playbook included Luck.
"You can ease him in if you don't want to try to win, if you're just going to try to protect him and grow him. We want to win," said Interim Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Arians. "We've got some guys on the team who are not into rebuilding, and neither am I. I'm too old. I'm with those guys. It's all about right now in the moment. He's (Luck) more than capable of handling it."
Reggie Wayne, the club's leading receiver and whose career path hopefully leads to Canton, is quite seasoned in potent Indianapolis offenses, having debuted in Peyton Manning's fourth season and playing in it through 2010. Wayne sees a hard worker in Luck, one with a bright future.
"The thing about it is that they're throwing so much at him," said Wayne. "He's taking it all in, taking it in stride. He knows what's going on. He's admitting his mistakes and he's taking on all of these challenges that they're giving him. As a receiver, you want to be there for him. You want to back him up, and you want to make him look good. He's going to be special, he really is."
Luck attacked the instruction furiously, and his head rarely dropped below the surface. Described by Arians as a "piranha" – a term he also used for Manning and Ben Roethlisberger – Luck kept devouring playbook information as it was presented.
"It's not overwhelming, and it hasn't been really for a while. If it was overwhelming and the season had started, that would have been a bad situation," said Luck. "I think Coach Arians knew that and all of us knew that. He's never put too much on anybody's plate on the offense. He's given us what he thinks we can handle.
"He's a great judge of that quality in players. You try and learn more every day. I think it's working to our advantage that we do have some plays that you can dig down and call them in certain situations. I think everybody handles it very well."
General Manager Ryan Grigson has seen the club grow over the first five games, with Luck playing what Arians calls a "five-star" role. Grigson is not surprised by Luck's performance in crunch time.
"That's why you take a guy number one in the draft overall. We expect him to be great. He's shown that. He's shown flashes of greatness," said Grigson. "As I have said before and Chuck (Pagano) has reiterated, 'The greatest thing about Andrew is he's his harshest critic.' It's not like you have to needle him to get better. Every time he steps on the practice field or into the weight room, that's all he's trying to do. He's a type of kid we expect big things from. He has a great tutor and mentor in Bruce (Arians), who is bringing him along.
"It's not shocking how we're doing on offense. We have explosive receivers. We have some guys who can separate and create mis-matches at tight end. We have a guy who can put the ball on the money, is mobile and can make plays under duress, and when things break down. That is a key, key trait for a quarterback in this league."
In meeting the Browns, Indianapolis aims to rebound from a tough outing at New York. The target for the Colts would be to achieve the second-half performance it had against Green Bay. Along with the offense hitting a stride, the defense produced five sacks and harried Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers over the final 30 minutes.
Head Coach Chuck Pagano this season has used the mantra, "60 minutes, all you got." Pagano, who will miss his third game today while battling an illness, is on the minds of his players and fans.
The club will shoot to put together a 60-minute effort with each of its 45 players today so fourth-quarter heroics are not necessary. If such things are necessary, the team does have a body of work.
Grigson is in his first season as well. While he has endured the ups and downs to this point, he does see makings of a bright future.
"I sound like a broken record, but I just like how resilient we are," said Grigson. "I like how the blend of old and young we have on our team – those cornerstones of our team, those leaders, 'pillars' as we call them – have really helped lay this foundation to where the younger players can look to them in times of adversity and see how they do things. That was really evident in this last (home) game. We were under some serious adversity, not only in the game but off the field. It was such a great testament to the leaders of this team and the team as a whole. Everyone bought in.
"Like Bruce Arians mentioned throughout (that) week, 'The foundation we laid here, that Chuck Pagano has instilled in this team, has shown up.' It's beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was built on a rock. We're going to keep on every day just trying to get better, control the things we can control, learn to play four quarters of football, not just a half, not just come alive in the fourth quarter."