NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Their situation looked rather bleak, the Indianapolis Colts trailing 27-14 early in the fourth quarter Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis admitted he was thinking, “Oh (bleep).” Or, big picture, the Colts were about to go 0-and-3.
Then the Colts’ explosive offense from recent years arrived. Quarterback Andrew Luck drove the visitors 98 yards, capped off by a 35-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. After safety Dwight Lowery came up with his second interception of the game, Luck threw an 11-yard TD pass to wide reciever Donte Moncrief on the next play.
In just 56 seconds, the Colts were suddenly ahead. And after Frank Gore ran for a 6-yard touchdown, the game came down to a final defensive stop. Safety Mike Adams finished off fullback Jalston Fowler to deny a 2-point rush attempt with 47 seconds remaining.
The Colts escaped 35-33 over the Tennessee Titans in a wild AFC South battle that leaves all the division teams at 1-2 at the end of the day.
Asked if he thought the season was on the line, Luck admitted after a long pause, “It sure felt like it at the end of the game. We did not want to lose. I don’t even want to think about a loss, so I’m not going to. This one was big, very big.”
Indeed, it resuscitated the Colts after the two-time defending division champs didn’t seem to have a pulse.
Just like before, in double-digit losses at Buffalo and against the New York Jets, the Colts made their share of mistakes. A shuffled line with Jack Mewhort moving from right tackle to left guard, Joe Reitz starting at right tackle and Hugh Thornton going at right guard, still didn’t protect Luck well. He took three sacks and threw two interceptions. The defense got gashed at times.
But unlike before, the Colts overcame their deficiencies. Lowery, who had returned an early interception 69 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0 early in the second quarter, came threw with that clutch second interception of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota.
That enabled the Colts to seize control in blitzkrieg-like fashion on the next play. And despite being outgained 433-378 in total yards, the defense made that final stop to prevent the Titans from tying the game and forcing overtime.
“Awesome. Clutch,” Mathis said of Lowery’s effort. “MVP of the game. He got us through it.”
That said, resiliency didn’t atone all of the mistakes. But it was just barely enough. The Colts sounded more relieved to have survived than anything.
“(As) gutsy of a performance that I have been around,” said fourth-year head coach Chuck Pagano. “I’m going to cherish this one for 24 hours. This is just what this team needed.”
It’s fair to say the Colts still have issues in pass protection as well as on defense. They’ll keep grinding to iron those out in returning home to face another AFC South foe, the Jacksonville Jaguars, on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts will take a 14-game division winning streak into that game. And they earned a bit more than sustaining a streak this Sunday.
They preserved a shred of hope that it’s still possible to turn this season around, however unlikely that still seems.
“You’re not just going to keel over because things don’t go your way,” said Mathis, who had his first sack of the season and franchise-best 112th of his career. “It teaches you that you have to keep fighting.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.