Defense Steps Up, Offense Comes Through in 17-15 Victory
Winning in the NFL is anything but routine, but the Indianapolis Colts are making fourth-quarter comebacks a weekly occurrence.
For the fourth time in as many weeks, the Colts' defense came up with critical stops late in the game, and the team's offense mounted another game-winning drive.
Indianapolis kept the Baltimore Ravens out of the end zone the entire game Sunday, while Colts kicker Matt Stover kicked a 25-yard field goal with just over seven minutes remaining to deliver the Colts a 17-15 victory.
With the win, the Colts improve to 10-0. Their victories have ranged from 36-point blowouts to one-point squeakers, and the team knows comeback victories like Sunday's game will be particularly beneficial down the line.
"Winning those tight games shows the character of the team," said running back Joseph Addai, who had one of his best days of the season, carrying the ball 19 times for 74 rushing yards and a touchdown.
"It builds character and it shows what we can do as a unit," he said.
While the Colts held the Ravens without a touchdown, Baltimore kicker Billy Cundiff, who was signed earlier in the week, converted 5-of-6 field-goal attempts for all 15 Ravens points.
Cundiff's final kick, a 20-yard attempt with 10:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, split the uprights and gave the Ravens a 15-14 lead.
But the Colts did not let Baltimore savor the advantage for long.
A week after mounting a comeback drive to beat the New England Patriots in the closing seconds, quarterback Peyton Manning orchestrated yet another game-winning drive, moving the Colts 60 yards downfield in nine plays to set up Stover's only field-goal attempt of the game.
The former Ravens kicker, who played in Baltimore for 13 seasons, knocked through the 25-yard attempt with 7:02 remaining to put the Colts ahead for good.
"The game-winning came sooner than later," Stover said. "But I'll take it either way."
The game was far from over when Stover put the Colts ahead by two. Baltimore started the ensuing drive from their 30-yard line and drove deep into Indianapolis territory, poised to score with under three minutes remaining.
But the comeback effort of their own came to a screeching halt on 3rd-and-7 from Indianapolis' 14.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco attempted a short pass to running back Ray Rice, who finished the game with 134 yards from scrimmage, only to have Colts linebacker Gary Brackett step in front of the intended target and record the interception.
"It was a time when we needed it," Brackett said. "You just want to do whatever you can to keep (the Ravens) out of the end zone and field-goal range, and I just ended up making the big play."
It was Brackett's 11th interception of his career and his fifth against the Ravens all-time. The Colts' defensive captain returned the ball eight yards before having the presence of mind to down the ball and ensure another Colts offensive possession.
From there, the Colts went into clock management mode and milked over two minutes off the clock before calling a timeout and punting with 28 seconds left.
Rookie Pat McAfee booted the ball to Baltimore's Ed Reed, and after taking the punt on the hop and returning the ball a few yards, the All-Pro attempted a lateral pass with under 20 seconds remaining.
The ball took an errant bounce and Colts linebacker Freddy Keiaho recovered the fumble to seal the win.
"It was a crunch-time game," rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey said. "You love the nail-biters, but at the same time, it's a love-hate relationship. But we came out on top, and we made some crucial stops down the stretch."
Brackett said he was proud to hold the Ravens without a touchdown all game, but said he would like to see the defense keep offenses from driving up-and-down the field, nevertheless.
More importantly, Sunday's victory provides the Colts' young players with another notch of experience in their season's belt.
"It shows the young guys there are a lot of different ways to win in the NFL," Brackett said. And it is never over."
• Tight end Dallas Clark's only reception Sunday was a record-breaking one. The tight end caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Manning in the first quarter to give the Colts the lead and surpass Hall of Fame legend John Mackey for the most receptions in franchise history by a tight end (321).
• Second-year wide receiver Pierre Garcon enjoyed the best receiving day of his young career. With the Ravens limiting Clark over the middle, Manning found Garcon six times Sunday for a career-high 108 receiving yards. Garcon's longest catch of the day came on the Colts' first possession when Manning pump-faked and hit the wide receiver deep for a 66-yard gain to set up a touchdown.
• In his first game since Week 5 of 2008, second-year tight end Tom Santi recorded a career-high in both catches and receiving yards, finishing with six receptions for 80 yards.
• For the fifth time this season, the Colts' offensive line did not surrender a sack all game. The unit leads the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play (one every 49.8 attempts).
• Outside of Brackett's interception, the defense's biggest play of the game came at the beginning of the fourth quarter. After wide receiver Derek Mason caught a pass to move Baltimore to Indianapolis' goal line, the Colts defense stopped Ravens rushes short on first, second and third down. Baltimore ended up settling for a field goal and the defensive stand eventually helped the Colts win the game.
• The Colts hit the road once again next Sunday when they travel to Houston to take on the Texans for the second time this month. On Nov. 8, Indianapolis beat Houston in Lucas Oil Stadium, 20-17.