Of the many elements that make up the Indianapolis Colts as a franchise, one separates them from the pack. They win games that other teams lose.
Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller taught me a long time ago to never leave a game before it’s over. Many Hoosiers received the same lesson in the mid-1990s, but it didn’t stop some from walking out of Lucas Oil Stadium or clicking off their TV Sunday night when New England seemed to have the Colts’ number. Like for those who didn’t see some of Miller’s jaw-dropping heroics live due to lost hope, that proved to be a big mistake.
From my seat in Section 531, personal optimism was at rock bottom when New England led Indianapolis 31-14 with 14:18 remaining. Tom Brady had shredded the Colts’ junior-varsity secondary all night while his line kept Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis off his back. Randy Moss looked like he’d come out of a time warp that’d transported him to his historic rookie season of 1998. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning had two of his ugliest interceptions of the decade, and rookie wideouts Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie had hands that appeared to have made contact with Medusa.
And yet, the Colts triumphed, like so many other games they had no business winning during their current, unparalleled run. The ego- and testicular-driven decision by Bill Belichick to go for it on fourth down-and-2 at the Patriots’ 28-yard line got much of the credit, but Indianapolis had to claw back to get there and still had to finish the job. The ending was a microcosm of the team’s play during its NFL record six — soon to be seven — consecutive 12-win seasons.
“I think the one thing it says about our team is that there is no quit in these guys,” Colts center Jeff Saturday said after the 35-34 miracle. “Guys are going to keep fighting no matter what it looks like and what the circumstances show. We just kept telling each other on the sideline, ‘Just one more. One more stop on defense, one more touchdown on offense. Let’s see if we can get back in this thing and make a run.’”
Indianapolis’ extraordinary ability to win games it shouldn’t has been on display the past three weeks. San Francisco and Houston both had their chances to topple the Colts, but couldn’t do it. Sunday’s contest proved again that they can play badly and beat anybody. But Garcon, who redeemed himself with a fourth-quarter score, exhibited the attitude the Colts have after any victory.
“It makes you feel good, but it lets you know you’re not as good as you think you are,” Garcon said. “You have a lot of work to do. You have to go back to the fundamentals, go back to the basics and get back to the grind.”
If Indianapolis moves to 10-0 with a win over Baltimore this week, talk of a perfect season will ratchet up significantly … everywhere but in the Colts’ locker room, that is. The team’s veteran core that was around for the 13-0 start in 2005 will admit the pressure got to them. That season, like too many others, ended with a one-and-done in the playoffs.
Like New England, the Colts are a victim of their own success in that any season without a Super Bowl victory is now considered — by fans and the team itself — a failure. Both have learned that a great or even undefeated regular season is meaningless without the Lombardi Trophy. That level of excellence spawned the decade’s only great rivalry, one on par with any of the past.
“It’s amazing when it comes down to it,” Freeney said of the annual tug-of-war. “I don’t even remember when it wasn’t coming down to the fourth quarter. Maybe one time. These games (have a) playoff atmosphere. Huge games. Everybody wants to win.”
Indianapolis and New England seem destined for a January rematch. With a 5-1 mark against the Patriots since ‘05 and having just beaten them with a lackluster effort, the Colts should feel pretty good if it occurs. Assuming it does happen, you can bet seats will stay filled and TVs will remain on until the game clock reads all zeros.