ATLANTA -- It was as much of a big sigh-of-relief moment as it was a moment of joy between Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and vice president of football operations Jimmy Raye.
The Colts spent most of the game kicking and clawing their way back into the game against the Atlanta Falcons when linebacker D’Qwell Jackson put momentum in their favor, returning a Matt Ryan interception six yards for a touchdown.
That’s when it happened. Grigson and Raye flew out of their seats in the press box and embraced in excitement, as the Colts were on their way to a 24-21, come-from-behind victory.
Indianapolis entered the season with a stylish, flashy roster, but as quarterback Andrew Luck and other players have gone down with injuries, it has become a matter of surviving and doing whatever it takes to stay atop the AFC South. And there’s not an ounce of guilt coming out of their mouths after everything they've been through so far this season.
"We don't sugarcoat our situation," tight end Dwayne Allen said. "We've heard it all about playing in the worst division in football. We're tied for first place. Starting quarterback is down. So what? So what? We still have to go out and play. That’s the message form coach [Chuck] Pagano. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. Go out there and do your job. That’s what we continue to do."
Some 800 miles away from Atlanta, the Houston Texans did their part to stay in the thick of things in the AFC South when they beat the New York Jets on Sunday. The Colts and Texans are tied atop the division, but Indianapolis is technically in first place because it owns the tiebreaker over the two teams.
“Down 14 [points] on the road against such a good team, I tell you it was incredible,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said. “It was tough. It was much needed. The team’s confidence is amazing. They have tremendous trust in themselves. It was a great win. Something we needed.”
The word “grit” seemed to be thrown around the Colts' locker room more times than quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw the ball around the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
Their "grit" was evident by how you couldn’t pinpoint one play or one player as the reason why the Colts came from 14 points down to even their record at 5-5.
There was the 40-year-old Hasselbeck moving his record as a starting quarterback to 3-0 this season. You also had 42-year-old, ageless kicker Adam Vinatieri making the winning 43-yard field goal. And the 32-year-old Jackson had an interception, touchdown and sack. To cap things off, tight end Coby Fleener came in on defense and intercepted Ryan on his final heave of the game.
That’s the type of afternoon it was for the Colts, and that’s how they’ll continue to operate during the final six weeks of the season.
“Grit is a positive word in this locker room and it was what got us over the hump,” Jackson said. “It falls in the line of adversity, perseverance, being disciplined. You can put all those in the same box and you come up with a team. When a team does that, all you come out with [is] grit and I think it’s been proven this year: This win was important for us.”