Adam Vinatieri is still winning games with his foot.
Andrew Luck is still winning games he’s not supposed to.
On Sunday, the clutch kicker and hotshot rookie teamed up again, leading the Colts back from a 13-point halftime deficit for another come-from-behind victory, 27-23 over Tennessee.
”Everybody on the team — offensively, defensively, special teams — just plays football. They’re not worried about the scoreboard too much, not worried about what’s going on,” Luck explained. ”They’re aware of the situations, and we just go out there and play football to the best of our abilities. It’s just not overthinking all the situations.”
That much is expected from Vinatieri, who owns four Super Bowl rings and has long been considered the best clutch kicker in league history.
But it’s not supposed to be this way for the No. 1 overall draft pick.
He now has six fourth-quarter comebacks this season, one more than Ben Roethlisberger had in 2004 and Vince Young had in 2006 — the highest single-season total by a rookie quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. It came on the same day he passed Peyton Manning for the most yards passing by a rookie in Colts history and moved into second among all NFL rookies, trailing only Carolina’s Cam Newton (4,051). Luck has 3,792 yards with three games to play.
Indy (9-4) has now won a league-high eight one-possession games and this one put them on the verge of making the playoffs as coach Chuck Pagano watched his third straight game inside Lucas Oil Stadium. Pagano recently completed his final round of chemotherapy for leukemia and could be back on the sideline for the team’s final regular season game on Dec. 30.
Sunday’s losses by Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have made the playoff scenario incredibly simple for Indy, too: Win one more and they’ve got a ticket to the postseason, less than 12 months after finishing 2-14 last season and less than five months after being branded the league’s worst team in the preseason power rankings.
”We’ve got faith in this team, in not quitting,” defensive end Cory Redding said. ”We don’t concede to the word `quit,’ and especially not at home.”
If Tennessee (4-9) didn’t understand before, they certainly do after another stinging defeat at the hands of the Colts.
A year ago, the 0-13 Colts derailed the Titans’ playoff plans. In October, Indy did it again, rallying to force overtime, winning the coin toss and then running right down the field. It ended with Vick Ballard’s twisting dive into the end zone.
This time, Tennessee had no one else to blame.
Cassius Vaughn picked off Jake Locker and scored on a 3-yard interception return to give Indy a 21-20 lead late in the third quarter.
”It was one that I shouldn’t have thrown,” Locker said. ”I should be able to handle that position. I thought something different was happening.”
Locker’s second pick of the day set up Vinatieri’s shorter field goal. The biggest mistake of all came even later.
Following Vinatieri’s second field goal, the Titans got the ball back at their own 20 with 3:48 left. On the first play, Locker threw 4 yards to Kenny Britt. On the next play, Chris Johnson ran for 6 yards to the 30. But Tennessee coach Mike Munchak and Locker both thought the officials marked Johnson short, so Locker rushed the offense to the line and ran a quarterback sneak for no yards before Munchak could get his attention.
Locker then threw back-to-back incompletions, forcing a punt on fourth down, and the Colts ran out the clock. Locker was 22 of 35 for 262 yards with one TD and the two picks.
”We were in no huddle and we gave him the code work for a sneak because originally when he went down, it didn’t appear that he had the first down,” Munchak said. ”Obviously, when they marked it, he already had the play and he just ran it. We were trying to contact him, but with all of the chaos, he just assumed that he still needed the first down.”
Luck and the Colts had their share of miscues in the first half, including Luck’s poor decision to throw the ball as he was being pulled to the ground. Will Witherspoon picked it off and ran it back 40 yards to give Tennessee a 17-7 late in the first half. Rob Bironas made it 20-7 with a 31-yard field goal in the final minute.
Indy rebounded in the second half.
Luck opened the third quarter by leading the Colts on a methodical 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Delone Carter’s 1-yard TD run. Luck finished 16 of 34 for 196 yards with one TD and two picks.
The game turned when Pat McAfee booted a 52-yard punt out of bounds at the Titans 1 and Vaughn jumped in front of Nate Washington and picked off the pass as he dived into the end zone.
All Tennessee could muster after that was a 25-yard field goal from Bironas, while Luck and Vinatieri combined to give Indy the win.
”That’s him. He’s resilient,” interim coach Bruce Arians said of Luck. ”I can’t say enough about him because I think that’s what separates him from the young quarterbacks is the ability to overcome bad plays.”
Notes: Reggie Wayne caught six passes for 64 yards and one score, passing Andre Reed for No. 10 on the league’s career receptions list. Reed had 951. Wayne has 956. … Britt had a season-high 143 yards on eight catches, while Chris Johnson ran 19 times for 44 yards. … Ballard ran for a season-high 94 yards after the team rushed for only 12 yards in the first half. … The Titans are 0-5 all-time at Lucas Oil Stadium. … Indy played the second half without C Samson Satele (ankle) and RT Winston Justice (biceps). … Titans TE Jared Cook left with a right shoulder injury.