Colts showcased winning (complementary) formula in second half comeback at Oakland

Courtesy Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Before heading into a bye week that couldn’t come at a better time, the Indianapolis Colts used the final 15 minutes of the first half of the season as a teaching moment.

This, they showed everyone at the expense of the Raiders Sunday in Oakland, is who we aspire to be.

This is the blueprint authored by Chris Ballard and Frank Reich.

This is how a championship-caliber team handles its business.

In the fourth quarter, you find a way to close the deal. That’s one of Reich’s cornerstones: an obsession to finish.

On offense, you remain aggressive and put your foot on the opponent’s throat. It rattled off 21 unanswered points as Andrew Luck engineered the 19th comeback in the fourth quarter or overtime of his career.

On defense, you make a play that makes a difference. No matter what has transpired in the first three quarters – and there were long stretches when the defense was wholly ineffective against Derek Carr – do something to stem the tide, or turn the tide.

Done and done.

The Luck-led offense overcame a 28-21 deficit with a withering 21-point closing kick. Over the final 15 minutes, Luck was 6-of-7 for 95 yards and a touchdown to Jack Doyle. Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines combined for 57 yards and two Mack TDs on 12 rushes.

A defense that had no answers as Carr led the Raiders to four consecutive touchdowns – excluding a kneel-down drive to end the first half – finally got its act together. After Mack’s 4-yard run produced a 28-all tie with 10:47 remaining, the defense forced its first three-and-out since the Raiders’ opening drive.

The offense capitalized with Luck’s 10-yard hookup with Doyle for a 35-28 lead.

Then, the play that made a difference, one that “turned the trajectory of the game right on its head,’’ according to Luck.

On the first snap of the Raiders’ ensuing possession, rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, unblocked and amped up, zeroed in on Doug Martin. As he arrived, Leonard spiked the football out of Martin’s hands. Linebacker Matthew Adams recovered at the Raiders 27.

“Man, that was sweet,’’ Reich said after the game.

Man, that was needed and the driving force behind coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense. It’s a scheme that will give up completions (Carr had 17 straight at home point) and yards (the Raiders finished with 347), but absolutely must make a stop when the opportunity presents itself.

The Raiders’ final three drives consisted of 10 plays, generated just 26 yards and suffered the pivotal turnover. The Colts have had at least one takeaway in all eight games to start a season for the first time since 2007, and are tied for 3rd in the NFL with 16.

One of the talking points in the locker room Sunday?

“Just how we finished,’’ Leonard said. “Defensively, I know we didn’t play well in the first three quarters. And we just fought back all the way through and just finished.

“And that’s what a team is about, man. Not giving up and just fighting until the end.’’

It’s about being a complementary team.

The offense finished by converting Leonard’s takeaway into Mack’s 1-yard TD with 2:55 remaining.

“That’s just the way we’ve got to roll,’’ Reich said Monday evening.

For as long as the Colts have Luck under center, they’ll follow his lead.

If the defense gets to the point it ranks in the middle of the pack, fine. But its charge is to make enough plays to keep a game close, or come up with a critical takeaway at a critical juncture.

With this bunch, more times than not it’ll be about Luck and the offense.

“When you have the quarterback we have,’’ Reich said, “there is an expectation that we have to score points. That’s just the way this league is.

“When you have an elite quarterback . . . the goal is you’ve got to average over 30 points. That’s our expectation as an offense with the people we have.’’

Over the last five games, the Luck-led offense has averaged 34.2. It’s generated 171 points, the highest five-game total since some guy named Peyton Manning piled up 182 points in games 4-8 of 2005.

As much as the Colts are following Luck’s lead, they no longer are asking him to do too much. Again, they’re adhering to a blueprint authored by their GM and head coach.

Mack’s return from early-season hamstring issues has injected life into what was a dormant ground attack. He’s churned for consecutive 100-yard games against Buffalo and the Raiders, the first Colt to do so since Joseph Addai in 2007. The ground game has breached the 200-yard barrier in consecutive games for the first time since the final two games of ’87.

After setting an NFL record with 288 pass attempts and 186 completions in the first six games, Luck’s historical pace has slowed. And that’s a good thing. Over the last two games, he’s 39-of-54 for 395 yards and seven TDs.

“This season when we’ve managed that balance we’ve done some good things as an offense and we’ll continue to work at that,’’ he said. “I think we’re believing in it now, I really do.

“I think we’ve proven it to ourselves that we can do it and that this is a winning formula. This is how you play complementary football.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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