Maryland Terps

Luck's comeback leads Colts past Titans 27-23

201212091346496028551-p2.jpeg

Luck's comeback leads Colts past Titans 27-23

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indianapolis took a small step toward a far bigger goal Sunday - making the playoffs.

All they need now is one more win.

With Chuck Pagano watching inside Lucas Oil Stadium for the third straight home game, and a sold-out crowd ready to celebrate, the Colts rallied behind Andrew Luck's stable play and Adam Vinatieri's strong right foot to rally from a 13-point halftime deficit for a 27-23 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

``It feels great,'' outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said. ``Obviously, night and day compared to last year. The feeling around the locker room is tremendous, but that being said, by no means am I or are we satisfied with where we are.''

That feeling could change soon.

Sunday's losses by Cincinnati and Pittsburgh put the Colts on the cusp of another remarkable milestone in this stunning turnaround season. With one win in their final three games, Indy (9-4) would become the second team in league history to lose 14 or more games one season and make the playoffs the next. Miami did it in 2008.

And shockingly, just getting in isn't all that's at stake for the Colts. There's still a long shot chance they could win the division - if Indy sweeps its final three games, two against Houston, and the Texans lose either Monday night at New England or Dec. 23 against Minnesota.

But the Colts are so young, they're still trying to figure out all the nuances about this playoff chase.

``I'll talk to Reggie (Wayne), talk to coaches that have been there,'' Andrew Luck said. ``They'll tell us how it is.''

The hotshot rookie has spent the first 13 weeks showing everyone how good he is, and though the numbers weren't sensational Sunday, the result was pretty much the same.

Luck already has six fourth-quarter comebacks this season, one more than Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 and Vince Young in 2006 - the highest single-season total by a rookie quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. It came on the same day he passed Peyton Manning for the most yards passing by a rookie in Colts history and moved into second among all NFL rookies, trailing only Carolina's Cam Newton (4,051 in 2011). Luck has 3,792 yards with three games to play.

The milestones don't end with Luck.

Wayne caught six passes for 64 yards and one touchdown, passing Andre Reed for 10th on the career receptions list. Wayne is at 956, five more than Reed. And Vinatieri added to his legacy as the NFL's best clutch kicker with the 53-yarder to give Indy the lead with 6:23 left and a 40-yarder to seal it with 3:48 to go.

Indy has now won a league-high eight one-possession games.

Winning this way is no big deal to the Colts.

``Everybody on the team - offensively, defensively, special teams - just plays football. They're not worried about the scoreboard too much, not worried about what's going on,'' Luck explained. ``They're aware of the situations, and we just go out there and play football to the best of our abilities. It's just not overthinking all the situations.''

If Tennessee (4-9) didn't understand that much before, they certainly do now, after another stinging defeat at the hands of the Colts.

A year ago, the 0-13 Colts derailed the Titans' playoff plans. In October, Indy did it again, rallying to force overtime, winning the coin toss and then running right down the field. It ended with Vick Ballard's twisting dive into the end zone.

This time, Tennessee could only blame itself.

Cassius Vaughn picked off Jake Locker and scored on a 3-yard interception return to give Indy a 21-20 lead late in the third quarter. Locker's second pick of the day set up Vinatieri's shorter field goal, and then came the biggest mistake of all.

With the Titans down four and 3:22 to play, Chris Johnson ran 6 yards for a first down. The problem: Coach Mike Munchak and Locker both thought Johnson had been ruled down short of the first down. After the chains moved, Locker ran a quarterback sneak for zero yards, then threw two incompletions and the Titans punted. They never got the ball back.

Locker was 22 of 35 for 262 yards with one TD and the two picks, but Munchak took the blame.

``We were in no huddle and we gave him the code word for a sneak because originally when he went down, it didn't appear that he had the first down,'' Munchak said. ``Obviously, when they marked it, he already had the play and he just ran it. We were trying to contact him, but with all of the chaos, he just assumed that he still needed the first down.''

Luck and the Colts had their share of miscues in the first half, including Luck's poor decision to throw the ball as he was being pulled to the ground. Will Witherspoon picked it off and ran it back 40 yards to give Tennessee a 17-7 lead late in the first half. Rob Bironas made it 20-7 with a 31-yard field goal in the final minute.

Indy rebounded in the second half, though.

Luck opened the third quarter by leading the Colts on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Delone Carter's 1-yard TD run. Luck finished 16 of 34 for 196 yards with one TD and two picks.

The game turned when Pat McAfee booted a 52-yard punt out of bounds at the Titans 1 and Vaughn jumped in front of Nate Washington and picked off the pass as he dived into the end zone.

All Tennessee could muster after that was a 25-yard field goal from Bironas, while Luck and Vinatieri did their usual thing and put the Colts on the verge of the playoffs.

``That's him. He's resilient,'' interim coach Bruce Arians said of Luck. ``I can't say enough about him because I think that's what separates him from the young quarterbacks is the ability to overcome bad plays.''

NOTES: Titans receiver Kenny Britt had a season-high 143 yards on eight catches, while Johnson ran 19 times for 44 yards. ... Ballard ran for a season-high 94 yards after the team rushed for only 12 yards in the first half. ... The Titans are 0-5 all-time at Lucas Oil Stadium. ... Indy played the second half without C Samson Satele (ankle) and RT Winston Justice (biceps). ... Titans TE Jared Cook left with a right shoulder injury.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Maryland doesn't lose any ground in Big 10 standings after loss to Ohio State

Maryland doesn't lose any ground in Big 10 standings after loss to Ohio State

Maryland suffered a frustrating loss to Ohio State on the road Sunday in a game that featured their best player fouling out thanks to a more than questionable technical foul. 

The bad news for the Terps? They missed a chance to gain ground on Baylor, Gonzaga and San Diego State, who all lost on Saturday, for a top seed in the NCAA tournament. 

The good news is that Penn State lost, too, so Maryland didn't lose any ground in its quest to win the Big 10 regular-season championship for the first time. With four games to go, it still holds a two-game lead over Penn State, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin in the conference standings. 

For the Terps to lose this regular-season title, it would have to be a monumental collapse over the next few weeks.

But the schedule still features some tough games so it isn't over quite yet. Maryland must shake off this most recent loss in Columbus and refocus on a 13-13 Minnesota team. The Terp's final three opponents after that are Michigan State at home, Rutgers on the road and Michigan in College Park. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE NCAA NEWS:

Quick Links

Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Dillon fits right in, Carlson hits a milestone and is it problem solved for Brian MacLellan?

Boy did they need that. The Capitals snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday with a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

He's kind of a big Dill

This was Brenden Dillon's best game thus far with the Capitals and it's not just because of his fight with Evgeni Malkin, though that helped. He played less than 14 minutes in Saturday's game against New Jersey and did not play at all on the penalty kill. On Sunday, he played 20:38 and 3:34 on the penalty kill. He was very physical, played the body well. There was one goal where he was caught too high, but that was because he joined the offensive rush which defensemen are allowed to do in the team's system. That goal wasn't on him, the team was just caught on the counter-attack with him in the offensive zone.

"I thought he had a really strong game," coach Todd Reirden said. "We've been kind of easing him into it, his minutes weren't as high as we would've liked yesterday and then today I thought it was really noticeable, his play. Just settles things down and obviously penalty kill, using him more in that situation today. You could see his experience and then, when he has a chance to play against the other team's top players, he's not going to be fun to play against."

Dillon is a very good defensive player with a lot of snarl to his game. This was the best reflection of what the Caps really got when they acquired him.

Kempny-Gudas wasn't a disaster

Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas were paired together in Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens and there is no way to sugarcoat it: They were awful together. Surprisingly, the pair was reunited for this game and it actually wasn't the disaster I anticipated it to be. At 5-on-5 play, Kempny and Gudas had a 54.55 Corsi-For percentage. Well, they must have played sheltered minutes, right? They actually didn't. They had zero on-the-fly offensive zone starts and only 16.67-percent offensive zone faceoff starts. They were being played primarily in defensive situations.

Perhaps, in a way, that actually was sheltered for them considering they have been responsible for several of the breakaway chances the team has given up the past few games. Maybe the best way to shelter Kempny-Gudas is to keep them out of a position in which the offense can get behind them.

Wearing down the Penguins?

The Caps have outscored Pittsburgh 6-2 in the third period this season. Clearly Washington is trying to wear down the Penguins physically and that seems to be working in the third, though Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan isn't buying it.

When asked if he was concerned that the Caps were physically wearing down his team, Sullivan responded bluntly, "No."

Problem solved?

Had Washington gotten crushed this game, I don't see how Brian MacLellan could have justified standing pat on Monday. Clearly a change would have been needed. It's just one game, but did Sunday's win change MacLellan's approach to the trade deadline?

Let's consider what we saw. The Caps had almost zero offensive net-front presence on Saturday. Tom Wilson got a power play goal from providing maybe the only screen of the entire day. That was very different on Sunday where the goals by Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie came on plays the team seemed incapable of making on Saturday.

Defensively, while the team may have given up three goals, this was actually one of the better defensive performances we have seen from the Caps in quite some time. We did not see the type of egregious mistakes and turnovers that have been killing them of late.

So of the issues the team has been dealing with of late, Sunday's game showed they are indeed correctable. In that sense, perhaps MacLellan won't feel compelled to make any further moves or, if he does, just some minor tweaks to the roster.

The question MacLellan has to ask himself is whether Sunday's win is the beginning of the turnaround or if it was just the team getting up for a big game and a big opponent? Sunday's win will mean nothing if they revert back to how they have been playing lately. How much will MacLellan regret not trying to do something on Monday if the Caps walk away with one point against Winnipeg and Minnesota over the next three games?

Turning point

With the way things have gone for Washington of late, it had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds in the second period. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control. But a different team took the ice in the third period and took back the game with three goals. Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the third on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.

Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson and then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.

Play of the game

It's not really a play, but Dillon beat the snot out of Malkin.

And here's a bonus Caps fans will enjoy.

Stat of the game

With one assist, John Carlson passed Calle Johnasson for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history with 475. Carlson tied that mark on Saturday and was honored earlier in the game with a video tribute.

"Yeah, it's not my favorite thing," he said of the tribute, which is very in-tune with his personality.

Quote of the game

It didn't take long for Dillon to adjust to the Caps-Penguins rivalry.

"I like to play hard, especially against those top-end guys. Malkin's a heck of a player. He plays a physical game, too, sometimes. With these rivalry-type games, tempers run high and it was great."

Fan predictions

Just had to include this one because I love that it came from "Cautiously Optimistic."

The defense was much more sound in this game, though Sidney Crosby got a short breakaway goal in the second.

Could be, but so far so good!

Maryland was leading at the time of writing.  I feel your pain. I have only one kid and sleep is limited. Mine broke my toe though.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: