Defense comes through late, keeps Colts' playoff hopes alive

INDIANAPOLIS -- Any playoff aspirations hung in the air as the Jacksonville Jaguars had the ball inside Indianapolis Colts territory with a chance to at least tie the score late in the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Was this going to be Cincinnati all over again for the Colts? Or maybe like the losses against Philadelphia, Houston or the New York Jets?

It was looking like it would be that way again as the Colts reverted to bad habits of dropped passes, foolish penalties and even a missed field goal by Adam Vinatieri in the second half to give the Jaguars some hope as they tried to salvage their season and squash Indianapolis' playoff hopes at the same time.

And then the defense -- the same defense that couldn't stop Blake Bortles all game -- made a game-saving play to keep the glimmer of postseason hope alive for the Colts with a 29-26 victory.

"It was a testament to our defense, making a play at the end of that to give us the victory," Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said. "(Offensively), we certainly weren't sharp enough. It's great that we won. It's sort of like a mixed bag of emotions."

The Colts' being shut out in the second half doesn't mean a thing in the standings. All that matters is that they won their third straight game to improve to 4-5. Indianapolis will take the win after enduring losses to Cincinnati, Houston and Philadelphia in the final two minutes or overtime earlier in the season.

"I think what we're getting is, we're making more of those plays," Colts coach Frank Reich said. "If there's typically four to eight plays in a game that are really significant, [we] are making more of those and they're carrying us to the top. Now we want to finish it off when we have an opportunity like that, but we're definitely making progress."

The game was setting up to go into overtime after Vinatieri, the NFL's all-time leading scorer, missed a 52-yard field goal to give Jacksonville the ball at its own 34.

Bortles, as he did all game, threw underneath to put the Jaguars in Colts territory when the defense made a winning play for the second straight game. Bortles completed a pass to receiver Rashad Greene at the Colts' 25 when cornerback Kenny Moore reached in and stripped away the ball, which was picked up by safety Malik Hooker.

Greene was originally called down, but after extended time in the replay booth, referee Jerome Boger said the ball was coming out before the play was called down. Colts linebacker Darius Leonard forced a fumble to help save a possible loss to the Oakland Raiders in Week 8.

Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, from Day 1, has put a premium on the defense to strip at the ball on every play. He refers to it as a "spit the bit," meaning keeping going at the offense and at some point in the game the offense is going to wear down and make a mistake. That proved to be true in the past two games for the Colts.

"We talk about going for the ball very single play," Leonard said. "Every single play. Not a play goes by. That ball is what you want. You can't win without that ball. We want to have 40-plus turnovers this year ... Like I said earlier in the year, when we lost those games it was on us. Was nothing that their offense did."

There's plenty of work still to be done, especially for a Colts defense that continues to struggle most of the game before finding a way to make a play late, but these aren't the same Colts from the early part of the season.

They continue to climb in the playoff race and are now a game out of the final wild-card spot with a key AFC South game against Tennessee looming on Nov. 18.

"No, don't tell me," Luck said when asked about where they are in the standings. "I think we realize the hole we dug. I think we understand the reality of that situation, but we are not going to let ourselves play the, 'Okay we need them to do this and them to do that.' That doesn't fly in this league. I've been there (and) it doesn't work. You take care of your business. That's all you can worry about."