At Lambeau, Colts offense successful at keep away

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Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts runs for a first down against Nick Perry #53 and LaDarius Gunter #36 of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on November 6, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The closing act at Lambeau Field Sunday was performed by Andrew Luck and the offense, and applauded by the Indianapolis Colts defense.

Remember? The Green Bay Packers had sliced an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit to 31-26 with a pair of Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown passes in the span of 4 minutes. Three minutes, 29 seconds remained.

As what remained of a sellout crowd rejoined the game, the Luck-led offense trotted onto the field. First-and-10 at its own 25.

Rodgers never got a chance to complete his comeback. The Colts played keep away.

Veteran linebacker Robert Mathis was asked if the defense enjoyed watching the offense close out a game.

“Hell yeah,’’ he said with a wide smile. “When you’ve got 12, Andrew, that’s what he is. He’s a franchise. He’s one of the top quarterbacks in this league.

“We go as he (goes). That was great to see.’’

Coordinator Ted Monachino agreed. His defense stymied Rodgers for much of the game. With 10 minutes to play, the Packers had 13 points and Rodgers had been pedestrian: 16-of-31, 178 yards, one touchdown, one interception.

Then, vintage Rodgers. On consecutive drives, neither of which took more than 2 minutes, he completed 10-of-12 passes for 119 yards and touchdowns to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.

Monachino’s defense was reeling. There were flashbacks to Oct. 16 in Houston when the Colts, comfortably in front 23-9 in the fourth quarter, yielded two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes and lost in overtime.

“If we had to go back out there one more possession, it would have been difficult for us,’’ Monachino conceded. “But we were able to rely on our offense to finish the game.

“It’s always good when we end on a knee with the offense on the field.’’

Luck has orchestrated 17 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, but Sunday was equally as exhilarating. With so much on the line, the offense delivered.

“It’s enjoyable during it. Certainly it’s fun,’’ Luck said. “It’s also fun to watch.’’

For offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, it was a delicate balancing act. He had to milk the clock, force the Packers to use their final two timeouts and remain aggressive.

“You have to get first downs,’’ he said. “That’s the only way you can burn the clock.’’

In this instance, the aggressive approach was forced by Rodgers’ presence.

“It comes into play when Aaron Rodgers is on the opposite sideline,’’ Chudzinski said.

The clinching possession nearly was over before it began. Frank Gore was stuffed for no gain on first down, then a Luck second-down pass failed to find T.Y. Hilton. But on third-and-10, Luck shrugged off blitzing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, stepped up and delivered a 20-yard completion to Jack Doyle.

The clincher came on third-and-2 with 2 minutes, 21 seconds remaining. As Luck completed a sideline conference with Brian Schottenheimer following a timeout, Chuck Pagano implored, “One first down! Let’s go!’’

He got it.

Hilton ran a shallow post, got inside position on cornerback LaDarius Gunter and converted the sealing third down with a 27-yard catch. He got to his feet and celebrated. It was contagious.

“You see T.Y. catch the ball and both Donte (Moncrief) and Phil (Dorsett) are running routes and they’re jumping at the same time as T.Y.’s catching the ball,’’ Luck said. “They’re living it with T.Y. That’s the type of unity as an offense that’s important.

“We knew earlier in the year we’ve been in a situation where we had the chances as an offense to close out a game versus a team and we didn’t. I think that was sort of in the back of everybody’s mind. We wanted to go out there and sort of right that wrong, and in the some token finish this game.’’

In the overtime loss at Houston, the offense twice failed to deliver in the closing minutes.

After the Texans closed to 23-16 with 2:37 to play, it suffered a feeble three-and-out that used just 47 seconds. After the Texans tied it with 49 seconds remaining, the offense reached midfield before stalling. A third-down sack sabotaged the Colts’ opening possession in overtime and Houston completed its comeback with Nick Novak’s 33-yard field goal.

Chudzinski and Luck were criticized for their failings in Houston, and praised for the late-game poise, play calling and execution at Green Bay.

“It’s a matter of trying to pick those plays that you’re going to be successful on,’’ Chudzinski said. “Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. When they work it’s great, looks great.

“You’re smart when they work. You’re dumb when they don’t work. That’s the challenge of the position. Everybody loves second-guessing when they don’t work.’’

Sunday at Lambeau Field, it worked.

“It’s the goal,’’ Chudzinski said. “As an offense you want to finish with the ball in your hands.’’

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