INDIANAPOLIS – Forty-five times during his illustrious career, Peyton Manning has conducted comeback victories in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Colts fans have been passionate witnesses to many thrilling endings that have created lifetime memories.
The latest in a long line of fantastic finishes came on Thursday against Houston. Manning was relegated to the sideline. Seventh-year veteran Dan Orlovsky faced the task. Indianapolis was 78 yards away from the end zone with 1:50 on the clock and no time outs remaining. The offense had produced four field goals and was facing a talented Houston defense.
Orlovsky went to work. Completions to Pierre Garcon, Jacob Tamme and Donald Brown put the ball near midfield with 66 ticks left on the clock. On third down, Orlovsky hit Reggie Wayne deep down the field, giving Indianapolis a first down at the Houston 20. Two defensive penalties pushed the Colts to the Houston six-yard line. A pass interference call in the end zone put the Colts one yard from paydirt with 24 seconds left. From the shotgun, Orlovsky lofted a pass to Wayne, who snared the toss. Nineteen seconds remained, and Indianapolis led for the first time.
In what seemed like old times, Indianapolis had executed its two-minute offense to perfection. The feeling never gets old, and the 64,159 fans on hand in Lucas Oil Stadium had another fantastic finish to add to their memory banks.
The drive was the culmination of hard work the club puts in every week, and Head Coach Jim Caldwell liked the leadership shown by Orlovsky, who doubled his career victory total with the result.
"I think that is the mark of a real, fine quarterback, in terms of development," said Caldwell. "When the chips are down and you've got an opportunity to take it down the field, to put it in the end zone. That is something that we practice over and over again, in terms of a two-minute drive, and he executed it very well. There were some key throws in there, clutch throws, some great catches along the way and the pass protection stiffened up just enough.
"Dan did a nice job engineering that (final) drive. He showed some poise and certainly did a nice job of adjusting. He made some very big-time throws down the stretch. He was calm. He was on top of everything that was occurring out there. He didn't panic at all. That was huge."
Orlovsky hit 23-of-41 passes for 244 yards against Houston. It marked the second win in five days for the club against an AFC South opponent. He directed Indianapolis to a 27-13 victory last Sunday against Tennessee, his first career starting win. Orlovsky has battled with the club in making four straight starts. He likes what the club has done, and Indianapolis will have one more chance to play again – the season finale at Jacksonville on January 1.
"It took me seven years to get one (a starting win)," said Orlovsky. "It feels great. It does, I don't want to down play it. We went into a team (New England) that is probably going to be in the AFC title game, got them to an onside kick. We went to another team (Baltimore) at their place, who doesn't lose and we didn't play well. We played a team (Tennessee) at home last week who was in a playoff race and beat them. Now, we played a team (Houston) who was fighting for a bye in the playoffs and beat them. It's just an amazing credit to our team.
"At 0-12 or 0-13, how easy it could have been for us to fold? At 1-13, I heard a lot of people say, 'Well they've got one. They aren't going to be part of history.' We have kind of refused to walk into our locker room (with that mind-set). That has kind of been our mantra. When we walk out at the start of the game we refuse to come back in without a win. It's just a credit to our guys. It's just a really cool experience."
Wayne has been a part of more than a few comeback wins with the Colts. He is impressed with Orlovsky's battling manner.
"Dan did a great job leading us down (the field)," said Wayne. "He has ice water in his veins. He kept pushing and did a good job. He's a veteran. He's been doing this for a long, long time. He's been chopping wood. He was resilient. He just stuck in there and kept playing ball. He led us down the field in two minutes."
Orlovsky has worked hard to establish cohesion with his receiving corps. Wide receiver Austin Collie found the precision against Houston to his liking.
"It was good. The rhythm was on-point," said Collie. "The momentum was going. Everybody did a great job of staying patient, staying calm. I think everyone did. It reminded me of so many times we have done it in the past. It was fun. Dan with his confidence rubbed off on us the entire time. He's definitely one of those guys who will take command of the huddle. He's definitely one of those guys who will continue to lead this team. He's a great quarterback. He made some phenomenal throws in there. It felt like the Colts of old. Everybody stayed patient and calm during the entire situation. Dan did a great job of staying calm and getting us into what we needed to be in."
Running back Donald Brown goes back with Orlovsky many years. Orlovsky threw a key block against Tennessee that sprung Brown on a 80-yard scoring run a week ago. Brown made a key reception in the game-winning drive against Houston. In being happy for his fellow Connecticut Husky, Brown believes Orlovsky's success comes because of ice-water veins and toughness.
"I'm so happy for him," said Brown. "Just to lead our team on that last drive the way he did (was big). Reggie (Wayne) made some great plays. The offensive line gave him some time. Dan really stepped up and made some awesome plays. I think the ice water in his veins is the reason he gets back up. He's a tough guy. He's a competitor and he never looks fazed. He made some plays. It's great to have a guy on your team like him."
"He played a heck of a game," said center Jeff Saturday. "He was getting harassed early. They put some significant pressure on him early in the game, and he hung with us. He never complained. He stayed in the pocket and delivered the ball when he could. For him, two wins in a row against two AFC South opponent, I could not feel better for the guy."
The regard for Orlovsky's efforts and determination extend far beyond players and coaches. Vice Chairman Bill Polian has witnessed many stirring quarterback performances during his career, and he likes Orlovsky's style.
"He's one tough guy," said Polian. "He's taken a beating the last two weeks. He took a beating in New England. He's a tough, tough guy, a gritty guy. He has that knack. Guys rally around him, that's obvious. There's a lot to be said for that. I'll tell you one thing, he's not an O-fer quarterback, that's for sure. He's a very tough, high-character guy."
Orlovsky has been a Colt for just one of his seven NFL seasons. The opportunity to play and compete means a great deal to him. Orlovsky has a deep appreciation for the opportunity and for the past two games. The last two games in particular will warm his family's Christmas spirits.
"It feels great, I'm not going to lie," said Orlovsky. "I don't want to undermine it (the moment). It feels great to do it with the guys in this locker room, the way we fought feels better. I've been on some good teams. I've been on some bad teams. I don't know if I've been on a team that has the heart as this one does. It's a really, really fun experience to be a part of. It's fun to be out there competing and playing.
"It's an amazing win. I've even more excited to go home and see my wife (Tiffany, in Philadelphia). I miss my wife. This makes Christmas a lot better."