A learning experience. That’s how Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano described Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the team’s regular-season home opener at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts squandered a 20-6 lead and were forced to rally with a last-ditch drive in the game’s final seconds. Adam Vinatieri — perhaps the greatest clutch placekicker in National Football League history — nailed the 24th game-winning kick of his 17-year career, notching a 53-yarder with eight seconds remaining to lift Indianapolis to its first victory of the season.
“Our motto, we’ve said it many times, 60 minutes, one play at a time, all you’ve got. We’ll never apologize for winning no matter how you win, how you get it done. These guys fought, hung in there and found a way to win at the end of the game,” Pagano said after the game.
“There’s a lot of plays there at the end of that game that we’d love to have back. It’ll be a great learning experience for a young football team to go back and look at the tape and get some of those things cleaned up. But for the majority of the football game, we played well on both sides of the football. I’m just really proud of the guys.”
Vinatieri’s field goal was the longest game-winning kick of his career and his second-longest field goal overall, only surpassed by a 57-yard effort he had against Chicago during the 2002 season while playing for the New England Patriots.
“Hats off to the [kick] protection unit, the snap, the hold and certainly the kick by Adam,” Pagano said of the game-winning play.
The game-winning drive covered 45 yards in just four plays as rookie quarterback Andrew Luck completed three straight passes — consecutive 20-yard tosses to wide receivers Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne and a 7-yard flip to Avery — before a spike to stop the clock set things up for Vinatieri.
“I had two timeouts in that situation. First play, I knew we needed a chunk. A 5-yard gain is not going to do anything for you in that situation. I think I saw a little pressure come up the middle and a guy get free. I rolled left and Donnie did a great job of stopping in his drop and coming back and getting in the hole, making the catch and getting down immediately as opposed to trying to run so we could get a timeout,” Luck explained afterward.
“Second play, [Minnesota] brought the full-zone pressure. The line did a great job of recognizing it and picking up the pressure. Got the ball out to Reggie on another chunk. I think the next play, I hit Donnie. I knew we needed to quick-hitter and then get down so we could spike it [before the kick attempt].”
Indianapolis was forced to rely on the record-setting kicker, who had three field goals on the day, because of an inconsistent offense. Injuries along the offensive line — guard Joe Reitz (knee) and tackle Winston Justice (concussion) were both pregame inactives and center Samson Satele left late in the second quarter with a knee injury — played havoc with the Colts’ game plan.
Running the football with much long-term success became next to impossible with the makeshift offensive line. Indianapolis had 84 yards total on the ground, 21 coming on scrambles by Luck, and pass protection was iffy at best. Luck was sacked twice and was pressured on six other occasions.
Still, the Colts managed to move the football through the air in the first half as Luck completed 11 of 17 passes for 146 yards, four of those throws going to Avery for 75 yards and three to Wayne for 44 yards.
Rookie tight end Dwayne Allen hauled in just one pass in the half but he made it count, catching a 3-yard dart from Luck for a touchdown with 49 seconds left in the first quarter. Wayne added a 30-yard scoring toss from Luck with seven seconds remaining in the half as Indianapolis crossed up the Vikings defense by going deep down the seam on a third-and-3 play.
Vinatieri had a 26-yard field goal to account for the rest of the Colts’ early scoring. Blair Walsh’s two field goals, from 51 and 29 yards out, were the only scoring for Minnesota. Indianapolis went into the locker room with a 17-6 lead.
A second Vinatieri field goal, this one from 45 yards away with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter, pushed the Colts advantage to 20-6. But things got interesting late in the fourth quarter.
With five minutes remaining in the game, backup wide receiver Stephen Burton came up with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. The ball was first tipped at the line of scrimmage by defensive end Cory Redding and then again by Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph in the front of the end zone. The score cut the Indianapolis lead to 20-13.
And with 31 seconds left in the game, the Vikings marched 47 yards in nine plays before Rudolph latched on to a pass from Ponder across the middle for a 6-yard touchdown. Walsh’s extra-point tied the score at 20-20. Minnesota’s touchdown drive was set up when Luck was sacked for a 22-yard loss by defensive end Everson Griffen. The Vikings began their game-tying drive at the Indianapolis 47-yard line.
The significance of the win, the first for Pagano as head coach as well as for Luck as the team’s starting quarterback, was not lost on the former Baltimore Ravens assistant.
“It’s huge because of everything you’re trying to sell your [team]. Everything that we’ve started, from culture to offensive system, defensive system, special teams, across the board, everything that you’re trying to sell to your kids from a confidence standpoint,” the Colts coach said afterward.
“To be able to come out of there with a victory is a testament [to the team] and it will go a long way moving forward.”
Luck ended the day completing 20 of 31 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception. Avery caught nine passes for 111 yards while Wayne added six receptions for 71 yards and a TD. Running back Donald Brown had 45 yards rushing on 16 carries.
For Minnesota, Ponder connected on 27 of 35 passes for 245 yards, two touchdowns and was sacked four times (Jerrell Freeman, Kavell Conner, Robert Mathis and Jerry Hughes).
Adrian Peterson, still recovering from offseason knee surgery, was limited to 60 yards rushing in 16 carries. Percy Harvin was all over the field for the Vikings, catching 12 passes for 104 yards and rushing twice for 13 yards. He also had two kickoff returns for a 39-yard average.
Indianapolis, now 1-1 for the season, will play host to AFC South rival Jacksonville next Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Minnesota, 1-1, returns to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome this week to face San Francisco.
Colts 23, Vikings 20
At Lucas Oil Stadium
Minnesota 3 3 0 14 — 20
Indianapolis 7 10 3 3 — 23
Min—FG Walsh 51
Ind—Allen 3 pass from Luck (Vinatieri kick)
Min—FG Walsh 29
Ind—FG Vinatieri 26
Ind—Wayne 30 pass from Luck (Vinatieri kick)
Ind—FG Vinatieri 45
Min—S.Burton 7 pass from Ponder (Walsh kick)
Min—Rudolph 6 pass from Ponder (Walsh kick)
Ind—FG Vinatieri 53
First downs 19 17
Total Net Yards 327 278
Rushes-yards 26-95 30-84
Passing 232 194
Punt Returns 5-51 1-11
Kickoff Returns 4-111 1-19
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 27-35-0 20-31-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 4-13 2-30
Punts 4-48.0 5-53.6
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 11-105 7-51
Time of Possession 30:22 29:38
RUSHING—Minnesota, Peterson 16-60, Gerhart 5-15, Harvin 2-13, Ponder 3-7. Indianapolis, D.Brown 16-45, Luck 4-21, Ballard 6-13, Avery 2-7, Allen 1-0, Moore 1-(minus 2).
PASSING—Minnesota, Ponder 27-35-0-245. Indianapolis, Luck 20-31-0-224.
RECEIVING—Minnesota, Harvin 12-104, Jenkins 5-43, Rudolph 3-35, Peterson 3-20, Gerhart 2-17, Aromashodu 1-19, S.Burton 1-7. Indianapolis, Avery 9-111, Wayne 6-71, Fleener 2-16, Hilton 1-15, Moore 1-8, Allen 1-3.