By Tom James
For the Kokomo Tribune
NASHVILLE, Tenn —
“Fake toss 39, taxi, naked right, screen left.”
That’s the play interim coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called on the sidelines — and executed to near perfection by a pair of rookies — as the Indianapolis Colts rallied for a 19-13 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at LP Field.
Vick Ballard’s catch, run and backwards dive into the end zone proved to be the difference as the Colts battled back from a 13-6 fourth-quarter deficit to post their first road win of the season. It was also Indianapolis’ first road win since a 31-26 victory over Oakland on Dec. 26, 2010.
“Obviously, we’re extremely excited to get the [road losing streak] monkey off our backs. We had to learn how to win on the road. It’s never easy,” Arians said afterwards.
Ballard caught a screen pass from quarterback Andrew Luck at the Titans’ 16-yard line and motored down the left sideline. Luck had initially faked the ball to the first-year running back and rolled right on the play, drawing the Tennessee defense with him. He then threw the ball across the field to Ballard, who had a convoy of blockers in front of him.
The former Mississippi State standout jumped from the 4-yard line as he attempted to get the ball into the end zone. He was hit by a couple of Titan defenders, somersaulting Ballard near the front end zone markers. After game officials reviewed video of the play, referee Al Riveron acknowledged the touchdown.
“They were all around, and I just knew I had to get in,” Ballard said. “The only way I could get in from the 5 was to jump so I did.”
Luck worried the ball might be intercepted.
“I threw it and I saw a Titans uniform flash and I thought, ‘Oh, God, this may be the end of the game in the wrong way,” Luck said. “What a wonderful individual effort by Vick Ballard to get it in there.”
An announced crowd of 69,143 went home unhappy as Tennessee allowed a game to slip away in the final minutes. Indianapolis had tied the game on a 1-yard run by second-year running back Delone Carter with 3:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Titans had controlled things early, jumping to a 10-3 lead at halftime on a 39-yard field goal by Rob Bironas and a 23-yard scoring pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright.
Indianapolis had been limited to a 20-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with 1:06 left in the first quarter. A second Vinatieri field goal attempt, this one from 37 yards with 4 seconds remaining in the first half, was blocked by Titans free safety Michael Griffin.
The Colts narrowed the margin to 10-6 early in the third quarter with a 44-yard field goal. Bironas, meanwhile, added his second kick of the day, connecting from 30 yards, to push the lead to 13-6 with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee’s usual dependable kicker had missed a 45-yard attempt late in the third quarter, allowing Indianapolis to stay within striking distance. The Titans certainly had their chances in the final minutes of the fourth quarter as well to put the game away.
Coach Mike Munchak opted to punt the ball away when Tennessee had a fourth-down at the Colts’ 41-yard line rather than to attempt a field goal by Bironas. On the ensuing punt, Colts rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton almost made a game-deciding miscue when he couldn’t decide whether or not to fair catch the kick. The ball was eventually downed at Indianapolis’ 6-yard line.
After a pair of runs by Ballard netted five yards, Luck completed a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Donnie Avery for a first down. With 26 seconds left in regulation, the rookie quarterback connected with rookie tight end Dwayne Allen for seven yards.
On the play, though, it appeared as if Allen had been stripped of the ball as he was going down. The apparent fumble was recovered by Tennessee with 18 seconds remaining to play. Game officials ruled, however, that Allen’s progress on the play had been stopped and the fumble occurred after the ball had been ruled dead. Luck then took a knee and ran out the clock.
Indianapolis won the coin toss to begin the overtime session and elected to take the ball. The Colts’ eventual game-winning drive began at their own 20-yard line, Nine plays and 80 yards later, Ballard vaulted into the end zone to complete the improbable comeback win.
“[The game-winning play is] going to be all over ESPN. It was just a great call at that time and a great effort [by Ballard] taking off at the 5-yard line and making that play,” free safety Antoine Bethea said later.
“We’ve been saying that some young guys have to step up and make some plays. Luck made some plays. [Avery] made some good catches. And then Vick at the end of the game making a hell of a play.”
With the win, the Colts improved to 4-3 overall for the season and 1-1 in the AFC South. Tennessee, meanwhile, dropped to 3-5 and 0-2 in the division.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.