NASHVILLE – The team’s starts as of late have been so porous, that even the owner can rattle off the stats of the top of his head.
“We’ve been down 66-9 in the first half of the last three games,” said owner Jim Irsay on Thursday night. “It’s amazing we’ve come out 2-1.”
Jim, you’re not alone.
Even some on the Colts team was wondering just how-yet again-they managed to overcome a slow start and early deficit to pull out a victory. But there it was-clock at zero-and the scoreboard read in favor of the Colts instead of the Titans by three points.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we got the ‘W’,” said defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois as the walked off the field with helmet held high.
He might not have envisioned such a scenario just three hours earlier, when Chris Johnson was pushing his way in for his second touchdown of the first quarter to give the Titans a quick 14-0 lead. It got to 17-3 before the Colts outscored the Titans 27-10 to end the game and improve their record to 7-3.
It’s also the fifth win of the season in which the Colts have won a game after the team gave up the opening points to their opponents. Seven times this year that has happened-including the humbling 30-point loss to the Rams four days earlier.
“It seems like it. That’s how we make our living,” said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano when asked about his team facing adversity. “It caught up with us two games ago. We have got to try to make things a little easier on ourselves.”
Thursday really did that when it comes to the AFC South, because Pagano’s team is in complete control of their destiny heading into the final six games of the season. The victory gives the Colts a three-game lead in the division over Tennessee-the only team left with a real shot to catch them.
A .500 record in the final three games probably gives the Colts a home game in the NFL Playoff come January-and three of those games come against AFC South opponents they’ve already beaten.
“Our first goal is to win the division,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman. “With this three-game lead, we are well on our way.”
Still the team is interested in changing the way they’ve won games this year even if it has often finished with success. Thursday’s beginning followed the pattern of the ones in the past-they were outgained by the Titans 189-143 and had just 38 yards rushing along with just six points.
We do need to start better, it’s tough digging yourself out,” said running back Donald Brown. “But this is a good group of guys here, high character guys who are very resilient and we have been in these situations before, so we don’t get our heads down and we keep grinding.”
Yet according to tackle Anthony Castonzo, the approach is more methodical when making a rally. Don’t forget the last two of the Colts’ comeback victories both came on the road in traditionally hostile environments at Reliant Stadium (Houston) and LP Field (Tennessee)
“We never really freak out,” said Castonzo of the team when they fall behind. “Just stay the course, do what we do in practice, don’t do anything too heroic, just do what we do.”
When the Colts are doing that well, they are running the football and that’s what happened in the second half. In the final 30 minutes to team rushed for 99 on 24 carries and three touchdowns came on the ground. Brown led the way with 80 yards rushing, gaining 5.7 yards a carry and scoring the eventual game-winning points with three minutes to go.
“We know to win football games consistently we are going to have to run the football well,” said Luck. “We did a decent job in the first half. I think the game sort of dictated that we couldn’t run it as much as we wanted, but I think it was great to settle down and to get points at the end of the half and to start the second half with points was big.
“To get that run game going, and that last drive, what a great job.”
Of course it doesn’t always work that way-as this season has proved in the more run oriented Pep Hamilton offense. More comebacks might be in this team’s future if it’s past has anything to say. While they’ll try to prevent that, they are prepared for it.
“It’s kinda not good for the health,” said linebacker Robert Mathis of having to rally back to win often. “But it is what it is, just as long as I’m proud of our guys fighting to fight.”
Doing so from behind to win, so far, is this team’s calling card.