Colts Rally for 27-23 Victory over Miami Dolphins in South Florida
The Colts didn't have possession long in their first prime-time game of the 2009 regular season.
The Miami Dolphins' Wildcat-based offense, giving an inspired effort in front of a frenzied Monday Night Football crowd, contributed to that.
That was the bad news for the Colts Monday. The good?
The offense didn't need it long.
The Colts, despite a huge time-of-possession advantage for the Dolphins, rallied twice in the fourth quarter, first tying the game, then scoring a game-winning touchdown in the final four minutes for a dramatic, record-setting, 27-23 victory in front of 66,227 at Land Shark Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
"That one was out of the ordinary," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell told Colts Radio afterward.
"We didn't get many possessions," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning told ESPN's Suzy Kolber minutes after the Colts' eighth victory in their last nine appearances on Monday Night Football. "I hate to say it, but we've done it before a few times. We just kind of stay loose over there and know, 'Hey, when we get the ball we have to be effective, especially in the second half. . . .'
"It's about being efficient when it counted in the fourth quarter. That's really what the game's all about."
Pierre Garcon, a second-year Colts wide receiver playing his first NFL game back in his native South Florida, turned a short screen into a 48-yard, catch-and-run touchdown with 3:18 remaining. A late Dolphins drive ended on the game's final play, an end-zone interception by Colts safety Antoine Bethea.
"It was perfect," said Garcon, who had 43 friends and family in attendance and who scored on his lone reception of the game.
He added, "I'm glad it came at the perfect time."
The Colts had three drives consuming less than a minute, scoring 17 points on the three possessions – an 80-yard touchdown pass from Manning to tight end Dallas Clark on the game's first play, a field-goal drive on the last drive of the first half and the fourth-quarter drive that ended with Garcon's game-winning touchdown.
"We've been in that situation before," said Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who caught three passes for 37 yards while being double-covered throughout much of the game after a 10-reception, 162-yard performance in the season opener.
"There was no panic. I just take a 'W' anyway I can take it. The way this league is, anything can happen."
The Colts' 14:53 possession time was the least for a winning NFL team since 1977.
"It felt like it," Manning said to reers when told of the statistic. "I've never seen a third quarter like that. It felt like we didn't letter out there in the second half."
Said Wayne to reporters, "That sounds nasty, but we got the 'W.''
The Dolphins ran 84 offensive plays to 35 for the Colts, and Miami had 27 first downs to 14 for the Colts. Miami rushed 49 times for 239 yards.
"We have to play better defense than that," linebacker Tyjuan Hagler said.
The victory came in the Colts' first game in the stadium since winning Super Bowl XLI there in February of 2007, and also moved Manning past Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts quarterback John Unitas into first place on the franchise's all-time list for victories by a quarterback. Manning has 119 victories, and he also moved into sixth place on the NFL's all-time passing yardage list, passing Vinny Testaverde.
Testaverde had 46,223 yards passing and Manning now has 46,232.
"I don't feel comfortable with these comparisons to Unitas, but I'm very proud to wear the same uniform as Johnny Unitas," Manning told Kolber. "He was a real winner. I'm proud to be a part of a lot of wins along with a lot of great players throughout the Colts' organization since I've been here. It's a very humbling feeling."
With the victory, the Colts – who won five consecutive AFC South titles from 2003-2007 – stayed a game ahead of Houston in the AFC South, and moved two games ahead of defending division champion Tennessee (0-2) and Jacksonville (0-2).
Houston beat Tennessee Sunday.
To maintain their lead in the South, the Colts needed two dramatic fourth-quarter drives and some opportunistic offense throughout.
Clark, one of the NFL's top tight ends the past several seasons, started the most productive yardage game of his career with a play that tied the longest play of his career, and did it on the game's first play.
After Manning faked a handoff to fourth-year running back Joseph Addai, the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback threw deep to Clark, who beat linebacker Akin Ayodele down the middle of the field. Clark caught the pass behind the Dolphins' defense, broke a tackle, and outran the defense for an 80-yard touchdown.
The play used 12 seconds, tying the record for quickest touchdown in Monday Night Football history.
The Dolphins' offense established a game-long pattern on the ensuing possession, moving 75 yards on nine plays on a drive that consumed 6:06, and the teams exchanged field goals throughout the rest of the opening half.
Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter kicked first-half field goals of 45 and 44 yards, and Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri converted attempts of 42 and 48 yards, with the last bouncing off the left upright and caroming through to tie the game at 13-13 on the half's final play.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, and the Dolphins took a 20-13 lead with 13:23 remaining on a three-yard run by running back Ronnie Brown, a play that capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 8:45.
The Colts, who never trailed by more than seven, moved quickly on their next possession. First, Manning found Clark for a 49-yard gain on 2nd-and-3 from the Colts 24, and four plays later, Colts rookie running back Donald Brown scored his first career touchdown on a 15-yard run. Vinatieri's conversion made it 20-20.
One possession later, Carpenter's third field goal in four attempts – a 45-yarder – capped a 10-play, 51-yard drive that used 6:16 and gave Miami a 23-20 lead.
The Colts moved 80 yards on four plays on the next possession, with Manning completing passes of 15 yards to Wayne and 17 to Clark before throwing incomplete to Garcon. On the next play, Manning called an audible at the line, then threw an inside screen to Garcon.
Forty-eight yards later, Garcon had his first NFL touchdown, and the Colts had what became the winning points. The Dolphins drove to the Colts 30, but Bethea leaped in front of rookie Brian Hartline to secure the victory.
"We knew it was going to be a 60-minute fight, a long battle," Bethea told Colts Radio. "At the end of the day, you have to make plays at the end."