Colts Remain Unbeaten with 17-15 Victory over Baltimore Ravens
Jim Caldwell knew this one was far from perfect.
The Colts' first-year coach also said he knew that in the NFL, particularly in road games in November against contending teams, winning is a whole lot more imant than perfection.
The Colts, despite committing three turnovers and being held to three second-half points, forced two late turnovers of their own. Combined with a few clutch plays, that was enough for a 17-15, come-from-behind victory over the Baltimore Ravens in front of 71,320 Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium in downtown Baltimore.
"The slimmest margin of victory is still a victory," Caldwell told Colts Radio after the Colts' seventh consecutive victory over the Ravens. "We certainly might not be pleased that we didn't play all the way around as well as we're capable of. We turned the ball over a few too many times.
"But all in all, our guys just keep finding ways to win."
The Colts, who are 10-0 for the second time in five seasons, extended their franchise-winning streak to 19 games, the second-longest such streak in NFL history. The Colts had been tied with New England (2003-2004) for second all-time on the list.
The 2006-2008 Patriots hold the record at 21.
With the victory, the Colts maintained a four-game lead in the AFC South over Jacksonville (6-4), which beat Buffalo, 18-15, Sunday. Houston (5-4) and Tennessee (3-6) play Monday.
"We're relieved we got this win," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who completed 22 of 31 passes for 299 yards with a first-half touchdown and two first-half interceptions, told Colts Radio. "It was a great win, a team effort. We scored enough on offense to win.
"One game at a time since the beginning of the season – that's what it will continue to be."
But on Sunday, the story wasn't the Colts' three-time Most Valuable Player's 41st career fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory as much as:
1) Colts kicker Matt Stover.
2) Linebacker Gary Brackett.
3) The Colts' defense.
Stover, who spent 1996-2008 with the Ravens before not being re-signed this past offseason, kicked a 25-yard field with 7:02 remaining. Those proved the game-winning points, coming one possession after the Colts forced a Ravens field goal after Baltimore had 1st-and-goal on the Indianapolis 1.
"A great goal-line stand by our defense," Manning called it.
"We really stepped up at the end," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "It was important we kept them out of the end zone. That sounds stupid and obvious, but it's true."
The Ravens, who finished with 354 total yards, drove inside the Colts 30 on seven of nine possessions, but the first six such possessions ended in field goal attempts.
"We scored touchdowns, they scored field goals," Manning said. "That was kind of the difference."
The Ravens' seventh trip inside the Colts' 30 came one possession after Stover's game-winner, when Brackett intercepted a short 3rd-and-7 pass from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on the Indianapolis 13 with 2:42 remaining.
"It was definitely a time when we needed it," Brackett told Colts Radio. "You wanted to do whatever you could to keep that team out of field-goal range, out of the end zone. We have to play better. We don't want teams to drive up and down the field on us."
Manning called the interception "huge."
"We were certainly getting ready for two minutes," Manning said. "His interception was absolutely critical."
Caldwell called the interception "timely."
"He did a great job corralling that one," Caldwell told Colts Radio.
The Colts converted a key third down on the ensuing possession when a pass from Manning to Wayne converted 3rd-and-1 with 2:19 remaining. The Ravens called their second timeout immediately after the play, then used their final timeout when their challenge of the first down was overruled.
"That was the idea, to get it close enough to make them challenge and make them use two timeouts," Manning told Colts Radio, tongue in cheek.
"It was a close one," Wayne said. "It was a do-or-die play. I knew where the first-down marker was. I just didn't know where the defender was."
The Ravens forced a Colts punt with 28 seconds remaining, but after a four-yard return, Ravens safety Ed Reed lateraled and Colts linebacker Freddy Keiaho recovered at the Ravens 40 for the second forced turnover by Indianapolis in the final three minutes.
Whereas the last two victories – 44-20 in 2007 and 31-3 in 2008 – were one-sided quickly, Sunday's game was far different. The Colts took a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard touchdown reception by tight end Dallas Clark on the game's first drive, a score set up by a 66-yard pass from Manning to wide receiver Pierre Garcon to the Baltimore 6.
With Manning throwing an interception on the Colts' second drive, the Ravens trimmed the lead to 7-6 with field goals of 46 and 44 yards by kicker Billy Cundiff, who tied Stover's franchise-record by making five of his six attempts during the game.
A 38-yard field goal by Cundiff made it 9-7 midway through the second quarter, and after a 4-yard run by Colts running back Joseph Addai – his 10th touchdown this season; seven rushing and three receiving – Cundiff's 36-yard field goal with :02 remaining in the half cut it to 14-12.
The Colts, one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL along with New Orleans, have won the last four games by a total of 12 points. That came after a four-game stretch of double-digit victories.
"That's typically how it goes in this league," Caldwell said. "When we have two-score games, that's the unusual ballgame. This game fell right in line with that [usual] type of ballgame."
Said Wayne, "We knew it was going to be a close one, a tight one. We hung in there."
Addai, whose 74 yards on 19 carries were a season-high, said, "If it was up to us, we'd try to blow every team out."
"That doesn't happen," he said. "Winning these tight games shows the character of the team."