Game recap: Colts 24, Falcons 21

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Dwight Lowery #33 of the Indianapolis Colts makes an interception in the end zone during the first half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on November 22, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 22, 2015) – What caught our eye from the Indianapolis Colts’ 24-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome:

Somehow, some way: Three turnovers, repeated third-and-short issues and a running game that averaged 2.7 yards per attempt for the offense. A defense that yielded three touchdown drives that involved at least 10 plays and covered at least 80 yards. A secondary that finished without Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis and Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams.

It all added up to an improbable but uplifting road win during which the Colts led for just 52 seconds. Go figure.

Despite an uncharacteristically sloppy game (two interceptions after none in his two previous starts), Matt Hasselbeck directed a critical 9-play, 56-yard drive in the closing minutes that Adam Vinatieri capped with a 43-yard field goal with 52 seconds remaining. There was no bigger play on the drive than Hasselbeck’s screen to running back Frank Gore that resulted in a 31-yard gain and a first down at midfield. A 12-yard collaboration with Donte Moncrief on third-and-2 essentially put the game in Vinatieri’s hands, or on his right leg, to be more accurate.

Hasselbeck, 40, continues to stiff-arm Father Time. The NFL’s oldest active quarterback stepped in for an injured Andrew Luck for a third time and completed 23-of-32 passes for 213 yards with two touchdowns to running back Ahmad Bradshaw and his first two interceptions of the season.

The offense managed a meager 276 total yards and had the three turnovers, but it converted 7-of-14 third-down situations.

Defensive stand(s): Greg Manusky’s bunch remains a mixed bag. It allowed Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to engineer three monster scoring drives (12 plays, 80 yards; 10 plays, 83 yards; 10 plays, 80 yards). The latter came on the first possession of the third quarter and dropped the Colts into a 21-7 hole.

Then? Utter dominance by a defense that was without rookie tackle Henry Anderson, lost for the season to a knee injury, and Adams, out for the game with an ankle injury. It also had to finish the game with Davis, who exited in the third quarter with an injury.

Ironically, the game ended with the first career interception of tight end Coby Fleener, who was serving as a deep defender on Ryan’s last-second Hail Mary.

The rest was all at the hands of the defense. Consider its handiwork after Atlanta settled into its 21-7 lead. The summary of the Falcons’ final seven possessions: two interceptions, one fumble by IU product Tevin Coleman, four punts. Twenty-six plays netted a paltry 66 yards and three first downs.

The play of the game undoubtedly was generated by Pro Bowl linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, and was set up when Moncrief downed a Pat McAfee punt at the Atlanta 1. On first down, Jackson faked a blitz, dropped back into zone coverage and intercepted a Ryan pass. He returned it 6 yards for a touchdown. It was the second pick-6 of Jackson’s career and the third of the season for the Colts.

It was a haymaker. Chuck Pagano will explain later.

Money, again: Former coach Tony Dungy nicknamed Adam Vinatieri “money’’ for his knack of producing in pressure situations. The NFL’s oldest player – he’s 42 – continues to live up to the moniker.

Playing in his 300th regular-season game, Vinatieri knocked down the 26th game-winning field goal in the final minute or overtime of his decorated career. Sunday, it was a 43-yarder with 52 seconds remaining. Although it didn’t count as an official game-winner, Vinatieri’s 55-yarder with 6:13 remaining gave the Colts a 27-24 win over the Denver Broncos.

Vinatieri opened the season by missing his first two field goal attempts. Since then, he’s 12-for-12.


Emotional Pagano: No one does post-game speeches after a victory better than Chuck Pagano. Shortly after his Colts chased down the Falcons, he stood in the middle of the locker room, surrounded by his players, general manager Ryan Grigson and owner Jim Irsay.

It was vintage Pagano.

“That was a great, great team win,” he shouted. “Great team win. Overcame obstacles. The start wasn’t how we envisioned it, right? A turnover, a turnover. Defense goes out and gets a stop. (The Falcons) miss a field goal, (the defense) gets an interception in the end zone.

“They make a play, they make a play, but you keep grinding, you keep believing. You just kept throwing haymakers. We said we ain’t comin’ here without throwing that last haymaker 52 (Jackson). You never now.’’

There was barely a pause.

“Play don’t care who makes the play,’’ Pagano went on. “Play hard for 60 minutes, one play at a time, all you got, don’t judge. We talk about win your box, no matter what. Win your box, no matter what and just keep throwing haymakers. Play after another after another . . . and the play don’t care who makes it. As long as you’re playing hard and you’re gritty as hell and you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, OK, and you’re in the right spot when the play shows up, that’s what happens.’’

Pagano then looked in the direction of Hasselbeck, who’s now 3-0 as a starter in relief of Andrew Luck.

“Matt Hasselbeck,’’ he shouted. “Great frickin’ job, Matt.’’

Pagano then fired the football at Hasselbeck, who caught it.

Still division leaders: Don’t shrug off what the Colts were able to accomplish in the Georgia Dome. First, they handled another opponent outside the AFC South. More important, they remained atop the division.

A second straight victory pushed their record to 5-5 and kept them tied for the AFC South lead with Houston, which defeated the New York Jets 24-17. The Colts actually hold the division lead based on their head-to-head tiebreaker with the Texans.

Next up: A home meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This and that: Hasselbeck moved past Jim Kelly into the No. 22 slot in career passing yards (started game with 35,656). . . . Frank Gore moved past Fred Taylor into No. 15 all-time in rushing yards with 11,706). . . . Gore and Moncrief led the Colts with five receptions each. T.Y. Hilton was limited to two catches and 21 yards. . . . Along with his pick-6, Jackson was credited with seven tackles, two for losses, and one sack. . . . Linebacker Jerrell Freeman led the Colts with 10 tackles.

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