INDIANAPOLIS – Reggie Wayne had his final-drive heroics in Week 5 as the Colts erased a 21-3 halftime deficit in knocking off Green Bay, 30-27.
Donnie Avery gave Colts fans another heart-stopping moment last weekend with his 14-yard touchdown reception at the gun to give Indianapolis its eighth victory of the season, a 35-33 win over Detroit.
In between those dramatic victories was Vick Ballard leaping into the end zone in Nashville, to give the Colts their first road victory of the season on October 28.
The 19-13 overtime victory over Tennessee counted as just "one" in the win column, but no one is denying the impact it has had on the Colts playing meaningful games in December.
"It was a huge, huge step for our football team confidence-wise to finally win on the road. To win in overtime and take the drive down for a touchdown with that young offense, and to run the ball and be able to run the ball down there in that phase of the game (was big)," Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians said. "That was a huge boost to our football team, and it was a nice little springboard to string some wins together."
One difference for Sunday's meeting from the first one is Tennessee starting Jake Locker at quarterback.
Locker missed the teams' first contest with a shoulder injury but has since returned, and the second-year pro had his second career 300-yard passing game last week.
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak said the entire team is searching for more consistency, and that includes from the quarterback position.
"It's Jake's second year, but this is really the first he's played. It was hard for him to sit out six weeks and watch," Munchak said. "He came back and had a good game and now, it's finding a way (to finish games)."
The dual-threat capabilities of Locker provide a unique challenge compared to backup Matt Hasselbeck, but Arians knows that limiting the Titans offense begins with neutralizing Chris Johnson.
In the first meeting, Johnson had 21 carries for 99 yards and in his career, he averages 103.3 yards from scrimmage against the Colts.
"Hopefully, we can continue as well as we did the last game. I thought we did a good job," Arians. "Whenever you're able to hold him without breaking one to the house, you're doing a pretty good job. He's going to get a chunk, just like (Detroit's) Calvin Johnson, he's going to get a chunk. Go to the next down and play the next down as hard as fast as you can and don't worry about the last one."
In looking to complete a season sweep of the Titans, Indianapolis is gunning for its fifth straight victory at home.
Quarterback Andrew Luck's eight wins are the most by a quarterback drafted No. 1 overall in the Super Bowl era, and he also has set an NFL record with six 300-yard passing games.
Munchak and his staff are preparing once again for Luck, and his ability to escape pocket pressure continues to impress the Titans.
"You can't discourage (Luck). People say make the quarterback 'uncomfortable'. I don't think he gets uncomfortable, no matter how many times he's hit, grabbed," Munchak said.
"He gets out of a lot of situations where you think he might get sacked, or something bad is going to happen. He makes plays, and that's a credit to him."
Sitting at 8-4 and atop the AFC Wild Card standings, the Colts young players are experiencing games in December that carry some weight in deciding the six AFC playoff teams.
Scenarios and projections are being thrown out on a regular basis by observers, but Arians stays keen to the process and just wants to be informed of where to go, if the time presents itself.
"Whenever they tell us where we are going, then start (we'll) breaking down the film. There's way too much (time)," Arians said of looking at playoff scenarios. "There's some really good football teams behind us, and we just have to take care of our own business. We will worry about all that (later), because a lot of the teams will play each other in these last few weeks. There's plenty of time to worry about it."
Colts 19, Titans 13 (OT) – October 28, 2012
Looking for their first road win of 2012, the Colts relied on the ground game and needed a little more than 60 minutes to get it done in Nashville. The teams traded field goals on the first two possessions, as each used up more than six minutes on their respective drives. The Titans took their first lead late in the second quarter when rookie receiver Kendall Wright scored a 23-yard touchdown reception. With 1:07 left in the half, the Colts drove to the Titans' 19-yard line, but kicker Adam Vinatieri had his 37-yard field goal attempt blocked. Vinatieri connected on a 44-yard field goal on the first drive of the third quarter, cutting the lead to 10-6. The rest of the quarter remained scoreless before Titans kicker Rob Bironas, who missed a 45-yard field goal in the third quarter, hit a 30-yarder early in the fourth quarter. The Colts answered with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that spanned more than seven minutes. Facing a fourth-and-one from the Titans' eight-yard line with 4:11 remaining, running back Delone Carter rumbled for seven yards and then punched it in the end zone on the following play. Neither team mounted a scoring threat and the game went into overtime. The Colts won the toss and did not give the ball back. The ground game was the focus for nearly the entire drive as Donald Brown gained 39 yards on six runs. At the Titans' 36-yard line, Reggie Wayne had a 20-yard reception. Two plays later, Bruce Arians went into his bag of tricks with a throwback screen to rookie running back Vick Ballard. With a convoy of blockers in front of him, Ballard made his way inside the five-yard line before leaping into the end zone for the game-winning 16-yard touchdown.
Titans running back Chris Johnson versus the Colts defense: The Colts will be facing a different quarterback in Jake Locker than they saw in the first meeting between the teams, but it all starts with Johnson. The electric Johnson is fourth in the AFC with 993 rushing yards, and the Colts escaped Nashville with limiting the Pro Bowl back to 99 yards. Johnson has 562 rushing yards in eight games against the Colts, and the need to keep him bottled up is a top priority.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck versus the Titans secondary: This will be the second opponent Luck has faced twice in his rookie season, and Arians expects to see some growth from the teams' first meeting. Luck was 26-of-38 for 297 yards, with one touchdown and one interception at Nashville. Luck's numbers improved in virtually every category in his second game against Jacksonville this season.
-The Colts are looking for their fifth straight win at home.
-Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's eight wins in his rookie season are the most ever for a quarterback selected No. 1 overall.
-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne needs 44 receiving yards to reach 1,200 for the sixth time in his career, which would tie him with Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt for the third most all-time.
-Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton leads all rookies with four 100-yard receiving games this season.
-Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis has a sack in nine straight home games and recorded his first career interception last week.
-Colts wide receiver Donnie Avery played for the Titans (2010-11).
-Titans running back Chris Johnson has 32 career 100-yard rushing games. The Titans are 23-9 in those games.
-Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright leads all NFL rookies with 54 receptions.
-Titans tight end Jared Cook had a career-high nine receptions, along with 103 receiving yards in last year's meeting in Indianapolis.
-Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley needs 2.5 sacks to reach 50 for his career.
-Titans safety Michael Griffin has two interceptions in his past three games versus the Colts.
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on matchup):
"(It's) a big, big division game. Chris Johnson, you always start right there stopping him. We did not do a good job of protecting the quarterback down there. I think Anthony Castonzo is playing a lot better right now. It's probably as good as I've had a tackle play in a long time. He'll draw a tough assignment in Kamerion Wimbley. It's the same thing. We've got to run the football and make our chunk plays. I think the key right now is we are playing so much better on special teams. Tennessee is going to come in, and we are going to get their best shot. We know that. (It's) a divisional game, rivalry type of game. We are going to need a great crowd, another playoff game atmosphere, and we'll take it one play at a time."
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on anticipation of playing down the stretch with goals reachable):
"That's the fun part because if you stick with the process, you can reach them. If you start looking at the final goal, you'll probably get beat. I say every week and it gets boring, 'You have to respect the process. Today is Wednesday football. This is what we do on Wednesday.' As long as we continue on that path weekly, we'll play well on Sunday and have a chance to win, then come back and do it again. Again, add them all up at the end."
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on what reaction would be if told in camp team would be 8-4):
"Thanks. I knew we had the talent. Whether or not we could put it all together and maintain it, I think the greatest tribute to this bunch of guys is how well the next man has stepped up. I think we're up to 14 now different new faces coming inm and I think we lead the league in IR guys. There's Jamaal Westerman is going to play Sunday. He got here today. Everyone learned his name and his face, and he's willing to jump in and join hands with us and that's really all we can do. The guys that we picked up last week contributed, and that's the way it's been all the way along."
Colts running back Vick Ballard(on why team has "never-quit" attitude):
"B.A. (Bruce Arians) said last week that once you get to the pro level, you are not expected to quit, and I guess we just take that to a whole other level. That's part of our job. We take it with pride. We want to win games, too. All that into one just gives us that extra boost in the end."
Colts defensive end Cory Redding(on coming into a new team and being named a captain):
"That's huge. To be elected amongst your peers as a captain to lead men into a football game or any situation is a huge honor. I take that with great pride. It means a lot. The biggest thing is just being who you are, being yourself. I am a natural-born leader. I have leadership qualities, and I try to show those things in everything we do. Also, have a good time with my teammates and try to make any situation that's a heavy burden as light as possible and have fun doing it. It's just a tremendous honor, and I'm very blessed to be in this position and will do the best that I can."
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak(on if message to team is to finish strongly):
"I don't think that part is that hard. It's just more putting the disappointment aside and not letting that creep in. Once these guys get back to work, I think the hardest part is a Monday and Tuesday when you come off a game where you didn't win. You're dealing with everything, not just the game, the family, the friends, the fans, that kind of stuff. Once you get to Wednesday, I think you're back to work and you've got a great opportunity on Sunday. We have four more opportunities at least. When you play in the league, it's all about playing your best, doing your best, so I'm not worried about it. That part's not the issue. You would like to finish strong here in these last four games, and this is an opportunity against a division opponent where we feel we can go there and have a great game. That's what we need to do, and that's the only thing that's going to make you feel better about a season. It may not mean we are going to go to the playoffs and things like that, but at least we finished winning and playing well. You want to do it individually because that's your profession and obviously as a team, you want to end up strong."
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak(on Chris Johnson's season):
"I think we've just been inconsistent. The running game in general, we started slow and we couldn't really afford to do and we did. I think having last year kind of being an off-year in the run game, you wish we would have started better in the run game the first four or five weeks than we did. We've definitely come out of it. The last six or seven games, I think our run game is very efficient. We haven't run the ball as much as we would have liked to this year. I think if you just go by how many times we've handed it off, I think we're No. 6 in the league on yards per carry, which means we are efficient when we run it and have gotten back to being efficient, but we've gotten into games where we haven't been able to do what we used to do, run the ball 25-30 times or more and win the time of possession battle. Because of that, we are at the backend of the possession, at the bottom five in that. We aren't handing the ball off like we would, and that's why you're 4-8 because you are forced to do too much of the throwing."
Titans quarterback Jake Locker(on his impression of first meeting between teams):
"I think that we had some missed opportunities in the red zone. I think we got in the red zone twice against them last time but didn't score touchdowns either time. I think that's a focus every week no matter who you're playing, it's getting seven points rather than three. What's impressive about Indy right now is their ability to find ways to win at the end. They've been behind in multiple games and found ways to come from behind late in games and win. We have to focus on the red zone and then when it gets down to the end, don't be comfortable with the lead if you have it. You have to understand that they're very good at making things happen and making big plays at the end of the game, and you've got to respect that."
Titans quarterback Jake Locker(on level of admiration for Andrew Luck):
"He's a great guy. I've got a lot of respect for him as a person, first and foremost. I had an opportunity to spend some time with him two years ago. He's just a great guy, easy to be around, I really enjoyed his company. He's a great football player, I think you knew that in college and what I'd say is that what he's doing isn't surprising me. He's a talented football player, and I think he's going to be a good player a long time."