INDIANAPOLIS – When some people think of game-winning drives, the thought of an offense driving down the field with time ticking away, having to make big play after big play to keep comeback hopes alive comes to mind.
For the Colts last Thursday night that was exactly the case, but the chance for the offense to capture the headlines could not have taken place without a crucial stop by the Colts defense on the previous possession.
After the Texans completed their only third-down conversion of the night when quarterback T.J. Yates' pass was batted in the air and hauled in off a deflection by wide receiver Jacoby Jones, it was time for the Colts defense to make a stand. The ball was on the Indianapolis 21-yard line and 2:43 remained in a game that stood 13-12 in the Texans' favor.
The defense stopped Texans running back Arian Foster on three straight runs and forced a Neil Rackers 31-yard field goal with 1:56 remaining. After surrendering a touchdown in the first minute of the game after a turnover and a 17-yard drive, the defense had stiffened again. The third stop of Foster was the ninth in 10 third-down efforts by a resilient Colts defense.
The field goal gave the Texans a 16-12 lead. It preserved time on the clock and forced the Colts to score a touchdown in the game's final 1:56 with no timeouts remaining.
The Colts had settled for four field goals on their previous scoring drives, but now it was either a touchdown for the win or absorb a divisional loss.
Quarterback Dan Orlovsky got things started right away with an 11-yard pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon to move the chains.
Following two incompletions, Orlovsky kept the drive alive when he found tight end Jacob Tamme for a 10-yard gain on third down.
The third-down heroics continued three plays later when wide receiver Reggie Wayne timed his jump perfectly and came down with a 34-yard Orlovsky pass to move the Colts to the Houston 20-yard line with 46 seconds remaining.
From there the Colts were beneficiaries of three Texans penalties, the last of which was a pass interference call in the end zone, and it set the stage for the game-winning score.
On first-and-goal from the one-yard line, Orlovsky found Wayne in the corner of the end zone where the 11-year veteran has made previous important touchdown grabs for the Colts during his tenure.
The offense had scored its only touchdown of the game in dramatic fashion, but it was the defense that had set the stage.
"Well you guys have heard me say it," said Orlovsky. "He (Wayne) walks by my locker every time and says, 'Throw left.' He ran by me in pre-game and said, 'Throw left.' Sounds stupid and it has kind of has set in me. I was sitting in my hotel room thinking it the last home game for the season here, and there are question marks about what can happen in his future. I was just thinking to myself if it ever got to the point in the game where someone needed to make a play, it wasn't probably going to go anywhere but him. I think he deserved that opportunity and obviously he continues to show that he comes up in the clutch."
The 12-play, 78-yard drive was the longest of the evening for the Colts and it took just 97 seconds. Orlovsky got some encouraging words from a veteran quarterback before taking the field.
"To be honest with you starting with the drive I felt confident going into it there," said Orlovsky. "With two minutes Peyton (Manning) came up to me and said, 'You got two minutes, no timeouts, just get it to a minute,' and we got ourselves to a minute with some completions and see what would happen. We were able to do that and we got some plays. The deep ball to Reggie (Wayne) is probably as good of a catch as I have seen in a long time. We had Jacob (Tamme) with a play that we put in for their defense. He ran an unbelievable route and the guy just got his hand on the ball and knocked it down. That was kind of an 'are you serious' moment, but we kept fighting. We kept playing hard, and the guys up front were picking up some pressures they were throwing at us. The guy (Reggie Wayne) who has just made unbelievable plays for a long time here for this organization has made another one tonight."
It was just the fourth start in a Colts uniform for Orlovsky but the ability to take the offense down the field in a short amount of time to score the game-winning touchdown impressed Head Coach Jim Caldwell.
"I think that is the mark of a real, fine quarterback, in terms of development," said Caldwell. "When the chips are down and you've got an opportunity to take it down the field to put it in the end zone, that is something that we practice over and over again, in terms of a two-minute drive, and he executed it very well. There were some key throws in there, clutch throws, some great catches along the way and the pass protection stiffened up just enough. But Dan did a nice job engineering that (final) drive."
When asked what was the key to the final drive, Orlovsky credited his skill position players without forgetting to mention the guys on the other side of the ball.
"Guys making plays predominately (was what made the last drive work)," said Orlovsky. "I think we did a great job of moving the ball all night. They are a pretty darned good defense. We just continued to fight. Obviously, our defense played an unbelievable game, kind of keeps us in the game and gives us a chance. Without our defense, we wouldn't have had a chance at the last drive. (It was) just an unbelievable team effort."
The winning heroics caught the attention of many. What caught the eye of Caldwell was the overall team effort that the 19-16 victory took. Without a determined defense, the outcome would have been different.
"I just think that we didn't turn the ball over, like we did in (in the opener at Houston)," said Caldwell. "Obviously, we started out with a turnover early on, and they got seven points off of that one. Beyond that we were, I think, pretty good at protecting the ball. Our defense played extremely well, even though I think they may have rushed for 171 yards. All-in-all, our guys did a nice job when they had to stop them. It was kind of a bend but don't break (mentality). When they had to stop them in the red zone, they stopped them in the red zone and made them kick field goals. Our tackling was certainly better, we stiffened in the red zone, which was important, and we defended the pass pretty well. It was a great, collective team effort. When the offense had to have a drive and take it down the field and score, they did it. When we needed a field goal, we got it. When we needed, obviously, a stop on defense, we got the stop. I just think it was a great collective effort."