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Colts’ notebook: Closing Malik Hooker interception ‘what they brought me here to do’

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 23: Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants throws a pass down field in the game against the Indianapolis Colts in the first quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The defense, and Malik Hooker, decided enough was enough.

After having few answers for Eli Manning and the New York Giants offense for the better part of three quarters Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts’ No. 10-ranked unit finally got its act together.

First, it limited New York to Aldrick Rosas’ 27-yard field goal with 9:20 remaining in the fourth quarter. Instead of pushing their lead to 31-21 after reaching the Indy 7-yard line, the Giants settled for a 27-21 cushion.

On the Giants’ ensuing possession and after Rigoberto Sanchez’s punt pinned them back at their own 4-yard line, the defense forced a punt.

Finally, after Andrew Luck gave the Colts their only lead of the game at 28-27 with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Chester Rogers with 55 seconds to play, Hooker ended any remaining suspense by intercepting Eli Manning’s overthrown pass down the middle to Bennie Fowler III.

“I feel like that’s what they brought me here to do,’’ said the 2017 first-round draft pick.

Tight coverage by rookie linebacker Darius Leonard made Manning’s throw to Fowler more difficult. At the time, Hooker wasn’t aware who offered the additional coverage.

“I didn’t know it was him until after the game,’’ he said. “I asked someone, ‘Who was that?’

“Just having somebody like that, you know, long arms and stuff like that, they force over-throws. It makes it a lot easier on the back. You’ve just got to catch it.’’

It’s been an up-and-down season for Hooker, who has battled various injuries that have limited his practice time and kept him out of two games.

“I was happy for Malik,’’ Frank Reich said. “He’s been working hard the whole year and just missing out on production here and there, but just in centerfield back there doing his thing, making the plays and the calls that he needs to make.

“No bigger one than that one that he  made to finish off that game.’’

Lengthy halftime talk

Reich admitted he offered a “passionate’’ halftime speech after watching his lethargic team head to the locker room trailing 17-7.

It also was a lengthy one.

As the third quarter was set to begin, the only Colts on the field were placekicker Adam Vinatieri, holder/punter Sanchez and long-snapper Luke Rhodes.

“All of a sudden they’re blowing the whistles and nobody’s out there,’’ Vinatieri said with a smile. “We were like, ‘What in the hell is going on?’

“Guys were running from the locker room and onto the field.’’

Vinatieri pep talk

Reich has asked several veterans to address the team during its Saturday night meeting during its late-season surge. First it was Luck, then safety Clayton Geathers. Saturday, it was Vinatieri.

The NFL’s oldest active player – he’s 45 and turns 46 Friday – focused on what the team has done to recover from its 1-5 start to find itself one win from earning a playoff berth.

“Just talked about what changed and what we’re doing different,’’ Vinatieri said. “We’re making the plays now; that plus the belief in each other.

“That’s changed. Guys are looking at each other and saying, ‘We can make this play’ rather than, ‘Man, I hope we make this play.’ Now we trust each other. I wouldn’t say we didn’t before, but it’s continued to build and build and build.’’

About that interception

Luck finished with 357 yards and two touchdowns with one ugly, ugly interception. It should have been another incompletion.

Early in the second quarter and facing a first-and-10 at the Giants 26-yard line, Luck was under pressure and launched a pass in the direction of the right pylon. It was intercepted by Curtis Riley.

It was thought one of Luck’s receivers ran a bad route, but he quickly cleared that up.

“No. I was trying to throw it out of bounds,’’ he said. “I got confused by the coverage. I did not have a plan. I tried to throw it out of bounds. It didn’t make it out of bounds and that’s a catastrophic error that I am disappointed in myself about.

“I’m embarrassed frankly about it, especially down in the red zone.’’

 Medical update

Center Ryan Kelly excited the game in the second quarter with a neck injury and tight end Eric Ebron in the second period with a concussion.

This and that

T.Y. Hilton led the Colts with seven catches for 138 yards. His 138 yards pushed his career numbers past the 8,000-yard mark. Since Hilton entered the league in 2012, he’s one of four receivers with at least 8,000 yards (Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas). . . . Leonard shared the team lead with 9 tackles.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.