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Luck's comeback leads Colts past Titans 27-23

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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.

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Three reasons the Capitals lost to the Panthers

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USA Today Sports

Three reasons the Capitals lost to the Panthers

Friday’s game had a little bit of everything. After spotting the Florida Panthers a 4-1 lead, the Capitals furiously battled back to tie the game at 4, then tied the game at 5 with just 1:25 remaining in regulation to earn an improbable point. The comeback ultimately fell short, however, as the Panthers earned the 6-5 shootout win.

Here are three reasons the Caps lost.

Bad puck management

A disastrous first period saw the Panthers score four goals and the biggest reason for that was the Caps’ puck management. They were sloppy with the puck leading to a number of costly turnovers, and Florida took advantage.

A good illustration of this game with Washington already trailing 2-1: Jakub Vrana made a lazy pass in the defensive zone that was easily intercepted by Jonathan Huberdeau, who forced a really nice save from Braden Holtby.

Whew, bullet dodged. Actually, not so fast.

Brett Connolly won the resulting faceoff, but Michal Kempny attempted a backhanded pass behind the net that was easily stolen away by Vincent Trocheck. Florida went tic-tac-toe with Trocheck to Huberdeau to Colton Sceviour who finished off the play for the goal.

No control in front of the net

Trocheck scored a rebound goal from the slot that bounced off of Lars Eller and into the net. Evgenii Dadonov scored from the slot on the power play. Sceviour scored from the high-slot after what was a generous pass from Huberdeau who looked like he could have scored from closer in…from the slot. Jared McCann pounced on a loose puck in the slot to beat a sprawling Holtby and Huberdeau scored off a rebound right in front of Holtby.

See a pattern?

The Panthers had complete control in front of the Caps’ net and all five of their goals came from in close.

Penalties

The Caps had a pretty good start to the game, but that was derailed by a Jakub Vrana penalty just 6:10 into the game. Evgeny Kuznetsov was called for hooking about 10 minutes later and Dadonov scored to put Florida up 2-1.

Despite the penalties and going down 4-1 in the first, the Caps battled back to a 4-4 tie in the second. Then the penalties popped up again.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad late in the period. It was a tough call as the puck as was at Ekblad’s feet, but Ovechkin made no attempt to play the loose puck at all and simply hit Ekblad, drawing an interference call. Less than a minute later, the Caps were called for too many men giving Florida 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with and Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal.

After three-straight goals, the Caps’ penalties completely derailed them and swept momentum back in the Panthers’ favor.

But wait, there’s more.

With the time ticking away on the too many men penalty, Kuznetsov was tossed out of the faceoff dot. He argued with the linesman and apparently argued a bit too hard because the linesman went to the referee and Kuznetsov was booked for unsportsmanlike conduct giving Florida another 10 seconds of 5-on-3.

Despite all of that, the Caps still managed to tie the game with just 1:25 remaining in the game. Matt Niskanen, however, took a penalty with just 23 seconds left. With a 4-on-3 power play to start overtime, 

Overall, Washington gave the Panthers seven power play opportunities including two 5-on-3s, gave up two goals on the man advantage and completely killed their own momentum.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

10.19.18 Rick Horrow sits down with Zach Leonsis of Monumental Sports

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USA TODAY Sports

10.19.18 Rick Horrow sits down with Zach Leonsis of Monumental Sports

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

Top 3 sports biz items of the week:

1) The NHL’s new season has been infused with a bit of flare and fun that it is not used to. According to The Hockey News, players across the league have started to show a bit more personality on the ice, something that fans have been “begging for” for years. The highlight of the first week came during a wild 7-6 win for the Toronto Maple Leafs over the Chicago Blackhawks. Maple Leafs C Auston Matthews and Blackhawks RW Patrick Kane exchanged jeers after each scored a goal within the final minutes of regulation. Meanwhile in Raleigh, the Hurricanes now have one of the league’s best post-game celebrations. After a win, the whole team applauds the crowd before “skating from their own blueline to the other end of the ice and jumping into the boards.” This playful nature is one thing that the NHL has lacked compared to its NBA and NFL counterparts. With more fun, expect more fans. And to the fun mix add Gritty, the startling new Muppet-like orange Philadelphia Flyers mascot, who calls his fans “Gritizens,” has been on with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, and after mere weeks has amassed over 136,000 Twitter followers.


2) E-commerce giant Amazon is used to disrupting industries in a quick and swift fashion, but its dive into sports broadcasting has been described as “humble.” According to SportsBusiness Journal, Amazon has been linked with some of the world’s biggest leagues and tournaments, such as the NFL and Premier League, despite not being a longtime player in the sports broadcasting industry. “There is more to come from Amazon, full stop. We are in it for the long-term, that’s for sure,” said Amazon Prime Video European Managing Director Alex Green. “We just get our heads down and try and do the best possible job. We are quite humble about it. Amazon may be a big name but in sports broadcasting we are not. Let’s face it.” Amazon recently celebrated its first exclusive sporting event broadcast when it streamed the U.S. Open to tennis fans in the U.K. as part of a $40 million, five-year deal. While that effort did not go smoothly, with thousands of fans unable to access the livestream, Amazon has assured its current and would-be broadcast partners that their humbling performance would only improve.


3) NFL owners are preparing for a big vote at their fall meeting this week regarding cross-ownership. According to SportsBusiness Journal, the decades-old rule currently prevents “owners of other big four sports teams in NFL markets from buying a football team,” while also preventing NFL owners from buying non-NFL Big Four sports teams in an existing NFL market. The ballooning of franchise valuations has led owners to reconsider the rule due to the shrinking pool of potential buyers for clubs. To illustrate this, when the Carolina Panthers came up for sale earlier this year, only three bidders emerged before David Tepper bought the team for $2.275 billion. Even that NFL record setting sale came in under expectations. However, the league has not strictly upheld the cross-ownership rule. Back in 2010, Stan Kroenke exercised an option to buy the then-St. Louis Rams despite owning the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. Kroenke skirted around the rule after he handed off the Colorado teams to other family members, setting precedent and setting up the NFL for a sensible rule change.