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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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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

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Capitals vs. Golden Knights Game 1 Stanley Cup Final: Date, Time, TV Channel, Livestrem

The wait is finally over. 

After two decades, the Capitals are back in the Stanley Cup Final. 

After a convincing 4-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Capitals are in Vegas to take on the Golden Knights. They'll be facing off against a handful of familiar names, with former Caps GM George McPhee, fan favorite Nate Schmidt, and ex-Penguins goalie Marc Andre-Fluery are just a few of the names that'll be suiting up for Vegas. 

What will the X-factors in the series be? Who will be the unexpected heroes of Game 1? The action is almost underway, and here are all the details you need to know.

Game 1 Capitals at Golden Knights
Date: Monday, May 28
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV.
TV Channel: NBCSN 
How To Watch Live StreamingNBC Sports App Live Stream
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 FM)

WHEN IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES?

Game 1 of the Capitals-Golden Knights 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final takes place on Monday, May 28 at 8:00 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.

WHAT TV CHANNEL IS GAME 1 OF THE CAPITALS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS SERIES ON?

The TV broadcast of Game 1 between the Capitals and Golden Knights is on NBC. Capitals pre- and postgame coverage takes place on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

5:00 p.m. — Caps Cup Preview
6:00 p.m. — Caps GameDay Live
6:30 p.m. — Caps Face Off
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
8:00 p.m. — Game 1 Capitals vs. Golden Knights
10:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
11:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1?

Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final between the Capitals and Golden Knights is available for online stream on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the NBC Sports live stream page.

CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS GAME 1 OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals digital producer JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.