INDIANAPOLIS –What started on September 16 ends on tomorrow, that being the home regular-season schedule for the Colts in 2012.
What transpired in that first home game became something of a season-long trend for the Colts. Indianapolis pulled a fourth-quarter comeback victory that day over Minnesota, one of seven times the team has won in such thrilling fashion.
Not all of the comeback wins came at home, but each game this year at Lucas Oil Stadium kept Colts fans entertained:
September 16 – Eight seconds were left when Adam Vinatieri hit a 53-yard field goal for a 23-20 Colts win over Minnesota. The Vikings had tied the contest 23 seconds before Vinatieri's deciding kick.
September 23 – Forty-five seconds were left when Cecil Shorts scored on an 80-yard touchdown pass as Jacksonville won, 22-17. Indianapolis had taken the lead 11 seconds earlier and eventually ran three plays in the final 10 seconds after reaching the Jaguars' 26.
October 7 – Thirty-five seconds remained when Reggie Wayne scored on a four-yard touchdown pass for a 30-27 Colts win over Green Bay. The Colts rallied from a 21-3 halftime deficit to win under Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians. The game ball was delivered to Head Coach Chuck Pagano, who was battling leukemia.
October 21 – Andrew Luck rushed for touchdowns on the club's first two possessions and the defense made a stop at its 39 with 1:54 left in a 17-13 win over Cleveland.
November 4 – Indianapolis wiped out three Miami leads and survived a late tie when Vinatieri hit a 43-yard field goal with 5:58 left in the game for a 23-20 win. Luck set the NFL rookie record with 433 passing yards.
November 25 – T.Y. Hilton became the first Colts player with touchdowns on a punt return (75 yards) and reception in the same game. Indianapolis led Buffalo after the first five minutes in a 20-13 triumph.
December 9 – Vinatieri hit 53- and 40-yard field goals in the last 6:23 as the Colts wiped out a 13-point deficit to beat Tennessee, 27-23.
As the Colts, 10-5, and Texans, 12-3, battle Sunday, both clubs are in the playoffs. Houston won the AFC South two weeks ago with a 29-17 victory over Indianapolis in Reliant Stadium. Indianapolis gained a Wild Card spot, with a 20-13 victory last Sunday at Kansas City.
Houston still is playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Indianapolis has clinched the fifth seed and cannot move any higher.
Last Sunday marked the seventh time this year Indianapolis rallied with a last-period comeback victory, tying an NFL record that was accomplished six other times. The Colts in 1999 and 2009 pulled the same late heroics.
In reaching 10-5, the Colts joined the 2008 Dolphins as the only teams to win 10 or more games after losing 14 or more the previous season. Indianapolis joined that Miami team and the 1982 Patriots on the list of teams to make the playoffs one year after going 2-14 or worse.
The Colts were 2-14 in 2011. They have posted an eight-game turnaround. Twice before, the team has had one-season eight-game improvements – from 2-12 in 1974 to 10-4 in 1975 and from 1-15 in 1991 to 9-7 in 1992.
Those are tied for the seventh-best one-year jumps in NFL history. The 1999 Colts and 2008 Dolphins share the NFL mark with a one-year 10-game jump. The Colts went from 3-13 in 1998 to 13-3.
Indianapolis has become only the fourth team to win as many as 10 games after a season of two or fewer victories (Miami, 1-15 in 2007 and 11-5 in 2008; Colts 2-12 in 1974 and 10-4 in 1975; Oakland 1-13 in 1962 and 10-4 in 1963).
This year's team excelled through adversity. Pagano returns to the sidelines Sunday, but his illness was a tough blow. As he fought, the team fought, bonding along the way to piece together a season of success many outside observers did not predict.
The team believed in the message Pagano instilled, and the results are playing past the regular season.
"Anybody outside our locker room who said the Indianapolis Colts would make the playoffs, I think they'd being lying now if they claimed it," said Antoine Bethea. "The guys in the locker room, we stuck by each other week in and week out. It paid dividends. Everyone hung together, and we played well.
"This is a team that asked, 'Why not? Why can't we be here? What's stopping us?' The only thing stopping us is ourselves. We haven't allowed that to happen."
The rebound this year is a revival of what has been an extended run of success in Indianapolis. This is the club's 12th double-digit victory total since 1999, the most in the NFL. Since 2002 realignment, the Colts have done it 10 times in 11 seasons, a total that ties the league lead.
The Colts now have earned a 12th playoff berth since 1999, the NFL's top total. This marks the 10th time in 11 seasons Indianapolis has advanced to the playoffs, and the Colts have the second-best regular-season record during that span.
Sunday's game is the 87th straight sellout for the Colts. There never has been a game in Lucas Oil Stadium that was not a sellout. The Colts have sold out 121 of their last 122 games.
"A heartfelt thank you to all our loyal fans," said General Manager Ryan Grigson. "In many ways, without their support this season on and off the field we wouldn't be sitting where we are, period. Their support for Chuck (Pagano) was just out of this world and no doubt aided his recovery in a big way.
"I know that when this team takes the field with our head coach back this Sunday that the roof might as well be peeled back because I know our fans are going to blow the roof off Lucas Oil (Stadium)."
*1999-2012 NFL'S BEST RECORDS *
*Team(Playoff berths), W-L-T *
New England(10)*, 158-65
Green Bay(9)*, 139-84
NY Giants(7), 122-101
New Orleans(5), 117-106
San Diego(5), 116-107
NY Jets(6), 113-110
Tampa Bay(6), 110-113
San Francisco(4)*, 101-121-1
St. Louis(5), 100-122-1
Kansas City(3), 98-125
Oakland(3), 90-133* *
Cleveland(1), 73-150* *
*2012 playoff team, three to be determined