Double-Digit Deficits Not Too Much for Colts to Overcome This Season
INDIANAPOLIS – In a very real sense, there are positives.
Gary Brackett, the Colts' starting middle linebacker and defensive captain, said this week without question there is plenty good in a team being able to do what the Colts have done this season, in possessing the ability to turn huge deficits into memorable victories.
It shows resilience, Brackett said. It shows a team with veteran leadership. And it shows a team willing to play 60 minutes, and one that believes in itself.
Still . . .
Brackett, a sixth-year veteran, said without question there also is another truth to the Colts' propensity for dramatic, come-from-behind victories.
Yes, they're nice. And yes, they're memorable.
But they're hardly the safest way to earn a living, and they're hardly a formula for consistent NFL success.
"It's a tough thing to put yourself in those situations," Brackett said this week as the Colts (5-4) prepared to play the Houston Texans (3-6) in an AFC South game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We don't want to continue to do that."
The situations the Colts have put themselves this season may not be quite as remarkable as their ability to pull themselves out of them.
The Colts this season have faced deficits of 10 or more points in six of nine games, the first time since 2003 they have a deficit so large so often in one season. They have faced such a deficit in each of their five road games, and faced it once at home – in a 29-13 loss to Chicago.
The Colts also lost two road games in which they trailed by 10 or more points, losing to Green Bay (34-14) and Tennessee (31-21).
But three other times the Colts have rallied from the deficits to win, doing so in remarkable fashion and in some of the NFL's toughest venues:
• On September 14, in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., the Colts trailed the Vikings, 15-0, with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. They rallied with 18 consecutive points, beating the Vikings with a 47-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with three seconds remaining for an 18-15 victory.
• On October 5, in Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, the Colts trailed the Texans, 27-10, with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. They rallied with 21 points in a 2:10 span, beating the Texans, 31-27. Brackett returned a fumble 68 yards for a touchdown and quarterback Peyton Manning threw two touchdowns during the span, while the Texans committed three turnovers in the final five minutes. The Colts became the first team in NFL history to win in regulation after trailing by 17 or more points with less than five minutes remaining.
• This past Sunday, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa., the Colts trailed the Steelers, 17-7, with a minute remaining in the second quarter. A touchdown late in the first half cut the deficit to three, and a 17-yard pass from Manning to running back Dominic Rhodes with 4:04 remaining gave the Colts a 24-20 victory. It was the first time since September of 2003 the Steelers lost at home after leading by 10 or more points.
"That's very rare (to overcome three double-digit deficits in one season)," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "It maybe talks about the quality of our offense, being able to do that, and guys hanging together, but you'll go a long time usually between double-digit comebacks on the road."
Colts players this week agreed that the ability to rally from large deficits does reflect on players believing they have a chance no matter what the circumstance.
"What you do take from it is you're never out of a football game," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "You always have the ability to come back and win. Truth be told, most teams if they're up by 10 points late in the game, they should be able to close you out.
"You don't want to make a living at it. We have to improve in the third quarter and make sure we're getting leads and holding onto those."
The Colts this season have outscored opponents, 65-26, in the first quarter, but have been outscored 71-24 in the second quarter and 50-39 in the third. They have outscored opponents 63-50 in the fourth.
They have trailed at halftime in six games, and have trailed during the second half of every game this season except for a 31-3 victory over Baltimore. Indianapolis rallied from a five-point second-half deficit to beat New England, 18-15, two weeks ago.
"It's nice to know we have guys who are willing to claw or scratch their way and get back into the game, then persevere for 60 minutes and get a victory," Brackett said. "You can't say that for a lot of teams, that they're down 17 points and they're able to come back and get a victory.
"Some teams get down by 16 and they lose by 30, so this is a team that knows how to handle that pressure of being down. You claw your way back in it and it doesn't always come from the same guy.
"There are different guys throughout the year making the big plays. That's what we're going to need down the stretch to get into the playoffs."
What Colts players also said was needed was fewer deficits. Brackett said a key to that is the defense improving on third downs early in the game, which would slow the opposing offenses and prevent opponents from gaining early momentum and leads.
Colts tight end Dallas Clark said the offense needs improved efficiency early.
"You just hope mental mistakes don't play a part, and we've had a few of those," Clark said. "They have been costly and been getting us in holes, but it's good to see everyone kind of back each other up and come back and whatever points we need, we go get."
Said Saturday, "I think when we get opunities, we make plays. Our defense has given us the ball a lot in the fourth quarter and given us short fields. Guys have confidence and faith in each other that we can get it done when we have to, and that's the mindset we've taken."
Brackett said another factor has been a solid core of veteran leaders. After trailing by 10 or more points eight times in 2002 and rallying twice to win, the Colts have done it 12 times since – including twice last season, and once each the three seasons before.
In 2003, the first of the Colts' five consecutive AFC South title seasons, they trailed six times by double digits and rallied to win four times, including a 38-35 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which they trailed 35-14 with less than four minutes remaining.
Manning played in the 2003 Tampa Bay game, as did Brackett, Clark, Saturday, defensive ends Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock, offensive tackle Ryan Diem and wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.
The presence of those players this season?
When you're down double digits, Brackett said it can only help.
"I know that when I was a younger player, you looked at the veteran guys and saw their attitude toward the end of the game," Brackett said. "You saw how they responded to it. Being a leader, you want to portray that everything is fine. You want to keep on fighting and keep on plugging away.
"For me, I don't think it changes, my attitude on playing the game. If we're up 21 or if we're down 21, I'm still playing out there to be the best I can be, still trying to line everyone up and trying to be an effective leader.
"I think that helps a lot. When you're down 21, guys really don't know what the score is. You're still playing hard and you're still trying to talk those guys into playing sound technique football. That helps us get back into those games."