Luck leads another Colts rally, beat Titans 27-23
INDIANAPOLIS -- Trailing by four points against Indianapolis, and with about 3 minutes to play, Tennessee's Jake Locker ran the safest third-down play in the book -- a quarterback sneak.
The only problem: It was actually first down and another costly mistake.
With the help of two interceptions by Locker, the Colts' Andrew Luck and Adam Vinatieri teamed up to lead Indianapolis back from a 13-point halftime deficit and a 27-23 win Sunday at a place where Tennessee has yet to win.
"You're just frustrated because you're coming out of the locker room at halftime winning the game and you come back out and put forth the same effort that you did in the first half," Titans running back Chris Johnson said. "It's just frustrating when you slowly see a team coming back and taking it away from you."
Tennessee's bad luck against Indy (9-4) is nothing new.
A year ago, the Titans thought they were headed to the playoffs when came to Indy. They went home as the first team to lose to the 0-13 Colts.
In October, the Titans (4-9) thought they had recovered a fumble in Indy territory in the final minute of regulation, but officials ruled Dwayne Allen was down. Indy then won the coin toss in overtime and drove the length of the field for the winning score.
The latest example came when Locker gave away the lead with an interception near his own goal line, threw a second interception that led to a field goal that led to the four-point deficit and then, like coach Mike Munchak, thought Johnson had been marked short of the first down. Munchak couldn't get Locker's attention in time, and Locker never noticed the chains had moved.
"The play was called in to go ahead and sneak it to get the first down because we thought it was third-and-short," 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."
With the win, the Colts are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot. Losses by Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have made the playoff scenario simple: Win one more and they've got a ticket to the postseason -- less than 12 months after going 2-14.
It's been quite a turnaround. Vinatieri, who owns four Super Bowl rings and has long been considered the best clutch kicker in league history, continues to make late field goals.
And Luck has continued to defy the odds by winning games he's not supposed to.
The No. 1 overall draft pick 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.
"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," said Luck, who finished 16 of 34 for 196 yards with one TD and two picks.. "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."
The Titans had nobody to blame but themselves for this one.
After a 52-yard punt went out of bounds at the Titans 1, Cassius Vaughn picked off Locker and scored on a 3-yard interception return to give Indy a 21-20 lead late in the third quarter. Locker was 22 of 35 for 262 yards with one TD and two interceptions.
His second pick of the day set up Vinatieri's shorter field goal, and then came the biggest mistake -- giving away a down when they desperately needed it.
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, Johnson ran for 6 yards to the 30. But the Titans coaches and players all thought Johnson was short, so instead of using one of their three remaining timeouts, Locker rushed the offense to the line and ran a quarterback sneak for no yards before Munchak could get his attention.
"We thought we had a third down and we were trying to get the first down before they got set," Locker said. "We just didn't realize it was a first down. It put us in second and 10 and we lost a down, essentially."
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. ... 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. ... Coach Chuck Pagano watched his third straight game inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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