INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts improved to 9-6 on the season Sunday with their 28-27 victory over the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts fell in early 14-0 and, by halftime, 17-7, holes in front of the home crowd, but came out of halftime a determined bunch. After New York went ahead once again by 10, 24-14, Indianapolis put down the clamps on defense, while its offense really started to show signs of life, punching the ball in the end zone two more times from there to earn the come-from-behind victory that ultimately set up a win-and-you're-in situation next Sunday on the road against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday Night Football.
"It just tells you that we've come a long way," head coach Frank Reich said after the game, when asked about his team being able to pull out a victory even when it wasn't playing its best. "We've come a long way as a team, you know, winning these – these are the games we didn't win early on. But again, 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."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday's victory over the Giants:
• HALFTIME SPEECH: Going into halftime trailing the Giants 17-7, Reich and his team had some words for each other that kept them in the locker room longer than usual before the start of the second half. It wasn't a "rah-rah," yelling and screaming type of atmosphere; rather, it was a "passionate" display in which Reich and some of the players needed to cut to the chase. "It it was this has got to be better, that was embarrassing. It was pathetic what we did out there in the first half," Reich recalled after the game. Whatever was said worked. Andrew Luck got the offense going by completing 16-of-23 second-half passes for 214 yards with two touchdowns to no picks, as the Colts scored touchdowns on three of their four second-half possessions. "I think we did come out of that tunnel with a better mindset than we started the game," Luck said. "It's hard to understand why we started the game like we did. I thought it was a great week of work and great focus by the guys, but it wasn't happening for us. We've got to learn how to make it happen quicker, quicker, quicker so that we can force the issue in a sense when we feel the sort of lethargic nature of those starts happening."
• STUFFED: The Colts' run defense has been outstanding all season, but knew it was really facing a tough two-week stretch going up against two of the league's top running backs in Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley in Weeks 15 and 16. Indianapolis held Elliott to 87 yards rushing last week, and would follow that up with an even better performance on Sunday against Barkley, who is believed by many to be the obvious choice for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. The No. 2-overall pick was held to 21 rushing attempts for 43 yards. His longest carry of the day? Six yards. Now, Eli Manning responded with an outstanding performance passing the ball (until the Indy defense put the clamps down on that late, too), but for the Colts and this defense, it was mission accomplished as far as their overall goal of stopping the run — somehow and some way — on Sunday.
• BATTLE TESTED: T.Y. Hilton just continues to battle it out for his teammates and his coaches. The veteran wide receiver on Sunday was a gametime decision for a second straight week as he deals with a painful ankle injury, and, once again, Hilton decided to toughen it out and play, knowing what's at stake for his team. One would understand if Hilton played more of a decoy role considering his injury, but that wasn't going to be enough. He ended his day against the Giants catching seven passes for 138 yards, as he continues his push as the league's top receiver in the second half of the season. But beyond the sheer numbers, Hilton made huge plays Sunday when his team needed them the most. His 25-yard catch midway through the second quarter got Indy to the New York 15-yard line, and Nyheim Hines would run it in from one yard out four plays later to cut the New York lead to 14-7. In the third quarter, his 55-yard reception from Luck got the Colts to the Giants' 17-yard line; four plays later, Luck found Dontrelle Inman for a two-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 17-14. Then, finally, later in the third quarter, Hilton was able to draw a defensive holding call on a play in which Luck was sacked and lost a fumble, negating a huge possible swing in momentum for the Giants. Two plays later, Marlon Mack punched it in from three yards out to make it 24-21 Giants. Someone get that man a fist bump and a big bag of ice.
• WIN AND YOU'RE IN: Heading into Sunday's game against the Giants, the Colts got pretty much no outside help when it came to their playoff chances; they still needed some scenarios outside of their control to happen for them to be in position to advance to the postseason for the first time since the 2014 season. But Indy's win against the Giants seemed to finally start pushing things in their favor. A few minutes after the Colts won, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Houston Texans, meaning the AFC South Division title — with a Houston loss and a Colts win next week — was still in play for Indy. Then, the Pittsburgh Steelers were defeated by the New Orleans Saints, which catapulted the Colts into the sixth and final AFC playoff spot as a Wild Card. So what does it all mean? Here's the simple explanation: if the Colts win their 2018 regular season finale next week on the road against the Tennessee Titans, they're in the playoffs. If the Colts win and the Texans lose, then Indy gets the division title. Even if the Colts and the Texans win, then Indy gets in as the second Wild Card team. A win for the Colts against the Titans will be easier said than done, of course, as Tennessee happens to face the exact same playoff scenario as the Colts going into the matchup. And, accordingly, the league saw this win-and-you're-in situation for both teams as a terrific opportunity to move the game into primetime, and now the game is going to be played on Sunday Night Football.
• NOTES OF INTEREST:
— The win marks Luck's 21st fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drive of his career and his third of the season. Since 2012, Luck is tied with Drew Brees for the third-most game-winning drives.
— With Nyheim Hines' four receptions he tied Austin Collie (60 in 2009) for the fourth-most receptions by a Colts rookie since 1970.
— With 138 yards on the day, Hilton passed 8,000 career yards for his career. Since Hilton entered the league in 2012 only three other receivers have more than 8,000 yards in that span.
— Today's game marked Adam Vinatieri's 352nd regular season game played, which tied Jeff Feagles for the third-most regular season games played in NFL history. The game is also the 193rd game for Vinatieri as a Colt which ties him with Robert Mathis and Justin Snow for the seventh-most games played in team history.
Catch all the action on the field as the Indianapolis Colts host the New York Giants at Lucas Oil Stadium.