INDIANAPOLIS –Sunday's dramatic come-from-behind 19-13 victory at Tennessee followed the same script as two other victories this year, but it came with a bit of a twist.
Against Minnesota (23-20) and Green Bay (30-27) earlier this year, Indianapolis rallied in the final minute of regulation to get comeback wins. Those came in the comfort of Lucas Oil Stadium where crowd noise was decidedly pro-Colts.
Yesterday's win at Tennessee involved a game-tying, 80-yard, last-chance drive in regulation, followed by another one of that distance that embarked immediately after winning the overtime coin toss.
When Vick Ballard dived into the pylon on a 16-yard reception, Indianapolis had a third comeback win. This one was different, however, since it came on the road and was in front of many of the 69,143 remaining spectators.
The play snapped a 10-game road losing streak that spanned back through the previous season, and majority of the Indianapolis players and coaches had their first road triumphs. They might even have preferred that the trip home lasted a little longer than the 45-minute flight.
Back on the ground at home and with the AFC's schedule of games concluded, Indianapolis stood as one of seven conference teams with at least four wins. Houston (6-1), New England (5-3), Baltimore (5-2) and Denver (4-3) lead the divisions. Pittsburgh and Miami join the Colts at 4-3, with the Dolphins coming to Indianapolis this Sunday on a three-game winning streak.
After beating Cleveland a week ago in a non-comeback fashion, the Colts were lodged with nine other AFC teams with either three or four wins.
While the club's separation from the pack is a bit more this week, matters can change in the blink of an eye on game days. Entering this weekend's games, there are six conference teams with three victories.
While Indianapolis is four games improved from last year's record at this time and in possession of twice as many victories as accomplished over 2011's 16 games, Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians has not given much thought to what has been accomplished. He thinks the team is not where it should be.
"I think we are behind schedule," said Arians after the win over Tennessee. "We gave one game away that we should have in our pocket. We are just starting to scratch the surface of how good we can become if we all believe it. I think we'll show up in practice Wednesday with a lot of enthusiasm."
Arians was thinking back to the club's first divisional outing this year, a 22-17 home setback to Jacksonville where the Colts grabbed the lead in the final minute, naturally, but gave up an 80-yard pass play to fall to the Jaguars.
Divisional games matter dramatically in the standings, so the significance of the win at Tennessee was obvious. Of the six other teams the Colts are tied with or trail in the standings, none has more than one division loss. Tennessee, at 3-4 behind the Colts with yesterday's outcome, has two losses in the AFC South.
Indianapolis needs to take care of divisional and conference matters as it hits the season's mid-point this Sunday. The Colts are 2-2 in the AFC. Houston has yet to lose in the conference. New England and Baltimore are 4-1. Miami and Denver are 3-2, while Pittsburgh is 2-3.
Under Head Coach Chuck Pagano this spring, players were given shirts emblazoned with the slogan, "Build the Monster." It was an effort termed "reloading," not "rebuilding," and players took to the challenge.
Linebacker Pat Angerer has returned to play in the last two games, and he wants the progress to continue. Angerer was the leading tackler on last year's 2-14 unit.
"We got four more wins than everyone thought we would have, so that's good," said Angerer. "We always knew we could be a good football team. We are getting there. We are still not there yet but with a little improvement here and there, we can be alright."
Defensive end Cory Redding joined Indianapolis from Baltimore quickly after Pagano's arrival. A component in a few stingy Ravens defenses, Redding has been a vital and vocal cog with the Colts.
"If we were to believe all of the writers and all of the naysayers, we would be 0-5 or 0-7 right now," said Redding. "The men in this locker room are going to fight every week. We are going to go out there and play great team ball, and we got one on the road. Tough environment, hostile environment, but we didn't break. We might have bent a little bit, but we didn't break."
Quarterback Andrew Luck has taken every offensive snap and has had a major hand in the club's successes. He became the first NFL rookie quarterback since 1971 to lead a September fourth-quarter comeback win in the club's week two triumph over the Vikings.
After the Green Bay win, Luck became the first NFL rookie to pass for 1,200 yards (1,208) and record at least two wins in his team's first four games. After the Cleveland win, he was the first NFL rookie with 1,500 passing yards (1,674) and three wins in a team's first six games.
Following yesterday's win, Luck held onto the highest winning percentage (.571) by a rookie quarterback who was a top overall pick through week eight in NFL history. Luck has hit 160-of-288 passes for 1,971 yards, with eight touchdowns and interceptions. With three additional rushing scores, he is focused only on weekly increments.
"I don't know. I'm just trying to take it week-by-week," said Luck when asked if the team were where he thought it should be. "I don't think we've earned the right to look ahead and say we need to be here. Take it week-by-week, try and stack wins together and at the end of the year if we have enough wins to be in the playoffs, that'll be great and go from there."