Colts Turn in Nearly Error-Free Effort in Victory over New England
INDIANAPOLIS – They have talked often in recent weeks – and really, throughout the season – of playing what they consider Colts football.
They talked of playing consistently. They talked of not making mistakes. They talked of making clutch plays. And on Sunday night, facing a very real chance of slipping two games under .500, the Colts did all of those things on a national stage.
In so doing, they stayed very much in the AFC playoff chase.
The Colts, after back-to-back double-digit losses, on Sunday night played what several players called one of their most consistent games of the season at one of the most imant times, rallying from a second-half deficit to beat the New England Patriots, 18-15, in front of 66,508 at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"We went in talking about it the entire week, 'No Mistakes,''' Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "We said, 'Play good, solid football. Whoever makes the mistakes at the end of the game is going to lose it more than win a game.'
"We just battled play to play. Every play was important, to be honest with you."
The Colts perhaps didn't play entirely mistake-free on Sunday night.
But they came very, very close.
"When you don't shoot yourself in the foot with different things, the results are usually good," said second-year wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, who caught his first two touchdown passes of the season for the Colts' lone touchdowns.
"We were lucky. We came out on top. It was awesome. . . . To win this way was really gratifying. It was a really, really great effort by everybody."
Said offensive tackle Ryan Diem, "For the past couple of weeks we've been shooting ourselves in the foot. That was obvious. We've been playing close games, but we haven't been getting it done. We haven't been making plays when we need to. Today, we did.
"We were focused on this game like we were every week, but we have to get a streak started. One down and many more to go."
The Colts, who trailed by five points midway through the third quarter, did not commit a fumble, did not throw an interception, and did not allow a sack. Playing without their starting cornerbacks, Indianapolis also did not allow a pass of more than 20 yards.
As significantly, they did not have a yard in penalties.
The Colts, who entered the game having committed 51 penalties for 382 yards – uncharacteristically high for a team that had been in the Top 10 in fewest penalties in the NFL the last six seasons – committed one, and it came at the end of the first half with the Colts trying to spike the ball for a last-play field goal.
The call was a false start, with no yards enforced.
It was that sort of effort needed against the defending AFC Champions, Colts player said afterward – a victory Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said was critical.
"It was the eighth game of the season, a home game which we thought we had to win," Dungy said. "We lost two home games already. We didn't feel like we could lose another one. We're coming off a disappointing game, short week and a very physical game last week.
"I thought our guys practiced with some resolve and played with some resolve."
Peyton Manning, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, completed 21 of 29 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 121.9.
"It's a big win," Manning said. "It's important what we do with this. It sure would be nice to build off this, try to keep winning, get some kind of streak or some kind of rhythm established, but it doesn't get any easier from here on out."
With the victory, the Colts (4-4) remained in the middle of a pack of 10 AFC teams between 5-3 and 3-5 at the season's midway point. Tennessee (8-0), the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team, is the conference's only team with a record better than 5-3.
"This is one game of many we have to win to stay in this hunt," Saturday said. "I think it's important because it shows our young guys we can beat a playoff-caliber team at home when we play like we can."
Colts safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year, returned after missing five games. He had eight tackles, an interception and a pass defensed.
"I think this gives us a little bit of momentum," Sanders said. "We can go into every week being really encouraged by what we did today."
From the start Sunday night, the Colts and Patriots (5-3) – known in recent seasons for high-powered offense and shootouts – played a grinding game, one in which possessions were at a premium and one in which neither team led by more than seven points.
After an early exchange of punts, the Colts used more than nine minutes on a first-quarter drive that took 15 plays and covered 91 yards, giving them a 7-0 lead entering the second quarter.
A 12-yard pass from Manning to Gonzalez capped the drive, and provided the quarter's only points.
"I thought Peyton did a good job of just taking what was available," Dungy said. "We ran the ball a little bit when their five defensive backs set up and made our third down and took a lot of time off the clock. That's the way it was."
The drive's longest play was a 17-yard pass from Manning to tight end Dallas Clark.
The Patriots scored on each of their second-quarter drives, pulling to within four – 7-3 – when Stephen Gostkowksi converted a 29-yard field goal with 10:20 remaining before halftime.
After the Patriots forced a Colts punt, New England drove 61 yards in 13 plays, pulling to within one – 7-6 – on a 35-yard field goal by Gostkowski with 1:27 remaining in the quarter.
Manning finished the half having completed 14 of 18 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots cut into the Colts' lead with a series of short runs and passes, finishing the half with 63 yards rushing on 17 carries.
On the opening drive of the second half, Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 6-yard run gave New England its first lead, 12-7.
On the ensuing drive, Gonzalez caught a nine-yard touchdown pass with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter to give Indianapolis a one-point lead. Reggie Wayne caught a two-point conversion pass to push the lead to three.
The Patriots then drove 69 yards on 15 plays, tying the game, 15-15, on a 25-yard field goal by Gostkowski. The Colts then drove 48 yards on eight plays, with Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri – who played his first 10 seasons with the Patriots – connecting on a 52-yard field goal for the game-winning points.
New England had two more possessions. The first ended when Sanders intercepted Cassel on 4th-and-15 from the Colts 45.
After a Colts punt, the Patriots regained possession at their 20 with :21 remaining. After two incomplete passes, Cassel passed to Moss, who gained 22 yards before a fumble that was recovered by Colts cornerback Tim Jennings.
"There's no secret and no magic formula," Gonzalez said. "The only thing I know how to do is to work a little bit harder. I think that's what we're going to do. We're going to work a little bit harder and a little bit harder and hopefully, figure it out. . . .
"Hopefully, this takes us in the right direction. We're 4-4. We're not out of anything. There is plenty of football left. We're going to work really hard and do everything we can to make it into the playoffs. Who knows what happens when you do that?"
Said Dungy, "We have to put together a streak. We can't get on this, 'Win one, lose one.' We have a tough game next week. We'll see. I'm not ready to call this defining yet."