A knack for late-game heroics and the ability to win the close ones have helped put the Indianapolis Colts in good position to return to the playoffs.
The Colts needed overtime to win at Tennessee earlier this season, but hope for an easier time Sunday when they try for a fifth consecutive home victory over the reeling Titans.
Paced by rookie Andrew Luck, Indianapolis (8-4) executed last-minute winning drives against Green Bay and Minnesota, and rallied from seven down in the fourth quarter for a 19-13 overtime win at Tennessee on Oct. 28. However, the Colts' 35-33 victory at Detroit last Sunday might have been the most improbable of all.
Luck threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:39 to rally the Colts from a 12-point deficit and deliver their second straight victory and sixth in seven games to maintain the top wild-card spot in the AFC. Luck's 14-yard TD pass to Donnie Avery as time expired was Indianapolis' first winning score with no time left since 1990.
"They don't know no better,'' said receiver Reggie Wayne, who is tied for third in the league with 88 receptions. "They just know to just keep playing. That's a credit just to the coaches. Just keeping the guys into it, keeping them to play toward the end, and guys just go out there and keep fighting and fighting till it's all over.''
Without Luck, it's uncertain if the Colts would be where they are one season removed from the 2-14 debacle. He's already broke Peyton Manning's record for 300-yard games (six) as a rookie and has won more in his first year than any quarterback selected No. 1 overall since the 1970 merger. After throwing for 391 yards with four TDs and three interceptions at Detroit, Luck improved to 7-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer.
If the Colts can continue their recent home dominance over the Titans (4-8), they need only one more win and a conference loss by either Cincinnati or Pittsburgh to return to the playoffs. Two of Indianapolis' final three games are against 11-1 Houston, but sandwiched in the middle is 2-10 Kansas City.
"There's some really good football teams behind us and we just have to take care of our own business," interim coach Bruce Arians said.
Luck was 26 of 38 for 297 yards with an interception and connected with Vick Ballard for a 16-yard TD in overtime at Tennessee. Fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton caught five passes for 35 yards in that contest, but has recorded three 100-yard games in the last five. He matched a career high with six catches for 100 against the Lions.
Indianapolis has outscored Tennessee 243-113 while winning eight of nine at home in the series. Donald Brown ran for 161 yards and a TD in the Colts' first win last season, 27-13 over the visiting Titans on Dec. 18.
They could be in for another big offensive effort against the Titans, who rank 31st in scoring defense at 29.9 points per game.
Tennessee looks to avoid a third consecutive defeat after totaling 29 points in its last two games following a 37-3 win at Miami on Nov. 11. The Titans will be forced to revamp an already makeshift offensive line after right tackle David Stewart suffered a season-ending broken leg and left guard Steve Hutchinson a knee injury in last Sunday's 24-10 loss to Houston.
"It seems like this is one of those years where what can go wrong is going wrong, and we're getting challenged in a lot of different ways,'' coach Mike Munchak said.
The problems up front likely don't bode well for Jake Locker, who was sacked six times against the Texans. Locker threw for 309 yards with a TD, but was intercepted three times and lost two fumbles. He's been responsible for all but one of the Titans' eight turnovers over the last two games.
Chris Johnson was held to 51 yards on 13 carries last Sunday after averaging 122.0 in his previous six games. He rushed 21 times for 99 yards against the Colts this season but has been held to 94 on 35 attempts in his last two at Indianapolis.
With Tennessee in position to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season, Munchak hopes his team can still find a way to finish strong.
"The goal is to be a lot better in four weeks than you are right now," he said. "I mean that's all you can work on."