INDIANAPOLIS –Staring at a quick 14-point deficit in a key divisional game and coming after sluggish starts in two recent outings, the Colts made a resilient turnaround to post a 30-27 win at Tennessee.
Tennessee drove 148 yards for game-opening touchdowns, including 70 rushing yards by Chris Johnson, but the Colts re-established their own ground efficiency with three touchdowns to grab a three-game lead in the division.
Coming on the heels of 18 rushing yards five days ago in a 30-point home loss to St. Louis, Chuck Pagano said the Colts have reset their identity.
"We said we were going to get back (to the rushing game)," said Pagano on Colts Radio. "We had to re-establish the run game and get back to who we are. This is who we are."
Indianapolis had 99 of its 137 rushing yards and all three scores in the second half. It was the third-highest rushing game of the season for Indianapolis, with those top three efforts (184 at San Francisco; 157 at Jacksonville) coming on the road.
"To be able to come out and do that in the second half, make the plays we made when everybody in the stands and our opponent knows you're going to run the ball, to be able to run the ball and get first downs, it's the key to our success," said Pagano, who added the offensive line took it "personal" to open lanes.
"They had a point to prove," said Pagano.
Donald Brown (14 rushes, 80 yards) and Trent Richardson (eight rushes, 22 yards) split time, with Brown tallying on six- and 11-yard touchdowns.
"He was great," said Andrew Luck, who rushed for 31 yards and an 11-yard touchdown. "He provides a great change-up to Trent (Richardson), who ran his butt off as well. Donald did a heck of a job. He's a consummate professional, does everything well."
Luck hit 23-of-36 passes for 232 yards in helping the Colts move to 7-3 and take a significant AFC South lead over Tennessee.
"We calmed down, ran our plays, got positive plays, got the run game going, which was great," said Luck. "A big part of our offense is the run game. Good things were happening. Great job by special teams forcing the turnover and giving us a short field. Defensively, what a stout job they did. A good team victory."
The Colts took their first lead on Luck's run, and it came two plays after the Colts special teams recovered a fumble kickoff return at the Titans' 20.
After giving up two long scoring drives to start the game, the Colts defense pitched near shutout ball the rest of the way, allowing only two field goals over six drives while the Indianapolis offense hummed to the lead.
Tennessee scored a late touchdown to cut the final gap to three points, but could get no closer.
Brown set a career high with the two rushing scores. Tight end Coby Fleener set career-bests with eight receptions and 107 yards.
His 39-yard reception on a stretch play in the fourth quarter was key in setting field position that led to Brown's late scoring burst.
"You go back to the offensive line. If you can effectively run the ball, it opens up a lot of things, the pass game and some of the play-action," said Fleener of the play. "It's been working for us well."
Pagano has seen his team erase fourth-quarter deficits 10 times in never losing consecutive games during his tenure. This time the comeback started earlier than the fourth quarter, and he knows his resilient bunch can function in crunch situations.
"It seems like it's how we're making our living, handling adversity," said Pagano. "It caught up with us two games ago and against the Rams. We can't continue to do that.
"We're trying. Guys are fighting their guts out. It is what it is. We have to try to find a way to make things a little easier on ourselves."
COLTS NOTES – Adam Vinatieri (791) moved past Dean Biasucci (783) into second-place in Colts career scoring behind Mike Vanderjagt (995)…Vinatieri converted on FGs of 48, 30 and 50 yards and tied a career-high with four from the 50-yard range in one season (2012)…Indianapolis went on a 17-0 scoring run late in the first half and early in the second without Tennessee running an offensive snap…the Colts now have gone 25 games without consecutive losses and are 8-0 in games under Pagano when coming off a loss…the Colts have beaten Tennessee in nine of the last 10 series meetings…this is the sixth time the Colts have opened 3-0 in the AFC South (also 2003, 2005-07, 2009), and they have done it this year on the road…the Colts are 4-0 this year when not committing a turnover (wins also over Oakland, at San Francisco, at Houston) and are 8-0 in such games under Pagano's tenure…since 2012, the Colts are 11-0 in games with 30-plus rushes, 4-0 in 2013…the Colts have won 24 straight games when rushing for three scores, including a 2-0 mark this year (also at SF)…under Pagano, the Colts are 14-2 in games decided by seven points or less, including victories in 13 of the past 14 such games…the Colts were four-for-four scoring in the red zone at Tennessee after being one-for-five last week.