INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It had gnawed at them for seven days.
Given an opportunity to close out a road victory with a withering, finishing drive against the Tennessee Titans in week 2, the Indianapolis Colts’ offense instead had to look on as the defense saved the 19-17 victory.
“This week we wanted to finish with the ball,’’ T.Y. Hilton said.
As the final seconds drained off the Lucas Oil Stadium scoreboard Sunday afternoon, there was Zach Pascal, deep behind the bunched “victory” formation. He was the safety valve . . . just in case.
Tick, tick, tick.
Up front, Jacoby Brissett was taking two snaps from center Ryan Kelly and dropping to a knee.
Tick, tick, tick.
Three, two one.
“That’s the best play in football,’’ Pascal said, flashing his victory smile. “I stand there and make sure we get a W.’’
While the final two plays of the 27-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons were mundane – minus-1, minus-1 – the preceding seven were textbook examples of how to close a game.
Four minutes, 11 seconds remained. The Brissett-led offense was in business at the Indy 25-yard line and entrusted to protect the 3-point lead. Run out the clock, and the Colts win a home opener and start a season 2-1 for the first time since 2013.
It was déjà vu all over again. In a week 2 road test at Tennessee, the Colts led 19-17 and the offense trotted onto the field with 3:29 remaining with the chance to seal things. It milked more than 2 minutes off the clock, but had to punt and stand anxiously as the defense denied the Titans.
“That was a big emphasis this week, closing the game out with a 4-minute offense,’’ Pascal said. “We got the ball back with 4 minutes and 11 seconds left and we all said, ‘We’re going to close out this game. We’re not even going to leave a chance.’
“It was good for us as a whole offense to put the game away.’’
Listen to All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson: “We love to finish by taking a knee . . . 4-minute situation and not having to put any extra stress and plays on our defense.’’
Listen to Kelly: “We had to make first downs. It was perseverance, man. We just kept going. It wasn’t always pretty, but we kept telling each other in the huddle, ‘Man, there is no place I’d rather be. That’s the best way to win, that’s for sure.’’
And listen to left tackle Anthony Castonzo: “That’s the wheelhouse where if you get a couple of first downs you should be able to close it out with the ball in your hands. Nick (Sirianni, offensive coordinator) and Frank (Reich) put us in some great positions to make some plays and we executed. It was kind of the perfect storm.’’
It was without question the perfect blend of play-calling by Reich and Sirianni and execution when there was little margin for error.
The Colts opened the decisive drive with their power alignment: tight ends Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox along with wideout Pascal and Mack.
Brissett quickly jump-started things with an 8-yard completion to Ebron followed by a pair of 4-yard runs by Mack.
On second-and-6 from the 41, a lightning bolt: Mack’s 26-yard burst around the right side to the Atlanta 33. It was a play Reich recently added to the playbook, and enhanced by Nelson’s pulling block against Falcons’ cornerback Isaiah Oliver.
Mack smiled as he replayed it in his mind.
“Amazing,’’ he said. “Quenton pulling around and being one-on-one with the guy.
“Yeah, it was over.’’
Nelson credited the offensive line and tight ends for walling off the Falcons defense. He took two jab steps forward “to try to sell an inside zone and get their linebacker to bite.
“Then,’’ he added, “I pulled around and there was one guy there. I took him out. It was a DB and he just fell to the ground before anything could happen.’’
A good “business decision’’ on the part of Oliver?
“Yeah,’’ Nelson said, “probably a smart one.’’
Mack’s 26-yarder took the Colts to the 2-minute warning and was followed by two more 3-yard runs.
Then, the dagger. On third-and-4 at the 27, Brissett executed a deft play-fake to Mack and hit Doyle to the right for 11 yards and the clinching first down.
“On that last third-down call, we debated on passing,’’ Reich said. “We had a little run-pass check thing going on in there. Just wanted to really be aggressive and finish with the ball in our hands.
“The one to Jack was a run-pass check and Jacoby made the right check and we executed it well.’’
“You just trust Jack,’’ Brissett said. “He gave me that look and I was like, “All right, Jack’s gonna make it right.’’’
One minute, 9 seconds remained, but it was over.
The game was the best of Brissett’s brief career: 310 yards, two touchdowns, a 118.1 rating. Mack finished with 74 yards on 16 carries. Hilton finished with 8 catches for 65 yards and one TD before missing the second half with a quad injury.
The offense was crisp in the first half, scoring a pair of touchdowns and two Adam Vinatieri field goals on its four possessions.
But it came down to the offense handling its business in the final 4 minutes, 11 seconds.
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