So many mistakes, be it turnovers leading to touchdowns, quarterbacks throwing bad balls and receivers dropping passes, but the Indianapolis Colts still endured.
Hounded by Browns star cornerback Joe Haden for much of the first half, Hilton finally found some room to make plays as he also had a 42-yard TD reception in the third quarter. Hilton finished with 10 catches for 150 yards in an otherwise ugly effort for his offense.
The Colts (9-4) trailed 21-7 in the third quarter after the Browns (7-6) were the beneficiaries of a second defensive touchdown when cornerback Justin Gilbert intercepted Luck on an ill-advised pass and returned it 21 yards to the end zone.
Luck also allowed a fumble-return touchdown for the game’s initial score in the first quarter when the Colts passer was wrapped up, tried to throw and was hit again and the ball popped loose. It bounded into the end zone, where Browns linebacker Craig Robertson recovered.
Another Luck interception led to a Browns field goal. And the Colts also had a fourth turnover on a Hilton fumble.
But Cleveland didn’t get much production from much-maligned quarterback Brian Hoyer, who completed 14-of-31 passes for 140 yards and two interceptions.
Hoyer threw a bad pass into coverage in the end zone that cost the Browns points as it was tipped and intercepted by Colts safety Mike Adams. The Colts finished the game with another takeaway as cornerback Josh Gordy, thrust into more of a prominent role with Vontae Davis missing the game, drifted over on a deep ball to snag a game-clinching interception.
While Luck had another flawed game, the NFL’s passing leader also showed yet again that he is resilient. He juked past a Browns defender and outran another on an 11-yard touchdown run. And on a day when wide receiver Reggie Wayne dropped three balls and several of his receivers couldn’t seem to get open consistently, the Colts quarterback finally connected with his No. 1 option.
The 42-yard score was a perfect back-shoulder pass as Hilton came back for the ball then danced around two Browns defenders, one of them Haden, for the score.
Adam Vinatieri kicked a pair of field goals, 51 yards before the Hilton 42-yard score, and 33 yards afterward. The Browns added a field goal to set the stage for the game-winning drive.
It came down to yards as well as seconds. Dan Herron needed a second and third effort with a spin move to gain a first down on fourth-and-1 at the Browns 2 in the final minute.
Luck then threw a low, outside pass that only Hilton could snag for the game-winning touchdown.
Luck completed 24-of-53 passes for 294 yards.
Head coach Chuck Pagano’s team prevailed despite boosting its season turnover total to 26.
The Colts return home to host the Houston Texans (7-6), who won 27-13 at Jacksonville. The Texans have never won at Indianapolis and the Colts would clinch their second consecutive AFC South crown with a victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.