The longest field goal of Adam Vinatieri’s Indianapolis Colts career provided what proved to be the deciding points in a 27-24 Sunday upset of the previously unbeaten Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“That was a big one,” the 42-year-old kicker said of the victory after his 55-yard field goal enabled the Colts (4-5) to remain atop the AFC South Division and snap a three-game losing streak.
While quarterback Andrew Luck will receive a lot of the glory for the Colts’ biggest win of the season — and he sure did his part with two touchdown passes and scrambling for first downs to sustain drives — several of his teammates came up clutch.
It was fitting with retired Colts all-time leading rusher Edgerrin James in the house that running back Frank Gore was a true workhorse in Edge's image. His 28 carries were the most since 2011 with San Francisco as the 11th-year pro gained 83 yards and got the Colts off to a fast start with a 7-yard touchdown rush in the opening quarter.
“We know what we have in this locker room,” Gore said. “We work hard every day on the field, of the field. It was a big win.”
The commitment to run the ball was an obvious change brought on by associate head coach Rob Chudzinski, who replaced fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton on Tuesday.
Another noticeable difference was Luck spreading the ball around to often-overlooked targets. Tight end Jack Doyle caught a 3-yard touchdown pass with a heads-up extension of the ball over the goal line to give the Colts a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. It was just the third score in three NFL seasons for the hometown fan favorite from Cathedral High School.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw also had an 8-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter to give the Colts a 24-17 lead. The play was reminiscent of a year ago, when Bradshaw led NFL running backs with six scoring receptions.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton didn’t practice all week, but caught five passes for 82 yards. But an even bigger surprise was reserve wide receiver Griff Whalen, who also had five catches for 77 yards. The fourth-year pro had just two catches for 23 yards in 10 games last season, but he’s now had five receptions in back-to-back games.
Whalen’s 38-yard catch near the end of the third quarter set up Bradshaw’s go-ahead score. And when the Colts were trying to run out the clock but facing a third-and-10 play at the Denver 34, Luck found his Stanford roommate for an 18-yard gain.
“My job was to find the open area right there, just like we planned all week and it opened up,” Whalen said of the clutch fourth-quarter catch.
Added Luck, “I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody in the locker room or anybody at practice. He’s where he’s supposed to be, and he gets the job done.”
Defensive end Kendall Langford, like Gore one of the Colts’ offseason investments in free agency, led the team with six tackles and had the only sack of Peyton Manning. It was Langford’s third sack of the season, one shy of outside linebacker Robert Mathis.
In the second quarter, safety Mike Adams had his fifth interception of the season, which ties Oakland’s Charles Woodson for the league lead. Adams hurt an ankle on the play and did not return, but the Colts capitalized on the turnover in the ensuing drive with Doyle’s touchdown grab. Adams, who made his first Pro Bowl last season in his 11th year, also had five interceptions last season, his first with the Colts.
Nickel cornerback Darius Butler also intercepted Manning in the fourth quarter with a diving snag of a low pass. It turned out to be Manning’s final play of the game as the Colts ran out the clock.
“We just had to get a win,” Butler said. “That as the biggest thing — we had to get a win.
“We started fast today and we came out finishing in the end, so that’s what we needed to do as a team, as an organization going forward.”
The Colts have a bye week before traveling to the Atlanta Falcons (6-3).
“Obviously we needed that one and we’re going to be enjoying this for a little while,” Vinatieri said, “but we’re going to hopefully take this momentum and keep running with it.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.