INDIANAPOLIS—The Colts were going to win.
Despite trailing the Chargers 22-20 with 2:29 left to play—despite watching the mistakes pile up, stareing 0-3 in the face—that much Andrew Luck knew on Sunday.
He threw an interception earlier in the game, lost a fumble that would be returned for a 61-yard touchdown the other way. It didn’t matter. Luck watched from the sidelines as his defense took the field, waiting for one last chance to seal the deal.
“The defense is gonna get a stop,” Luck told his offense. “We’re gonna get the ball, and we’re gonna drive down and score and win the game.”
He was right.
After facing fourth-and-seven on their final drive, Luck found wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a gain of eight. Two plays later, Luck found Hilton again, this time for a 63-yard trip to the end zone, lifting Indianapolis to a 26-22 victory on his fifteenth game-winning drive.
“Relief. Excited. Happy,” Luck said of his emotions after the win. “I wish I wasn’t petty and cared so much about winning and losing, but it makes you feel better. It’s addicting.”
Hilton, too, had promised the win, saying he’d make a big play. The wideout, who signed five-year, $65 million contract before the 2015 season, had only 10 catches for 120 yards and no touchdowns heading into Sunday’s game. His first half against San Diego was no different; Hilton had just two catches for 43 yards at the break.
But like Luck, Hilton was right, finishing the game with eight catches for 174 yards, including the game-winning touchdown.
“That’s what they pay me for,” Hilton said.
Even after committing costly mistakes early—penalties that forced them into a second-and-forty, dropped passes, turnovers—the Colts aren’t complaining. The team saw glimpses of the improvements they needed to see.
They saw a defense that has been plagued with injuries play the best it has all year.
Defensive tackle Hendry Anderson made his season debut, tallying up three quarterback pressures, two hurries, and a quarterback hit in just 18 snaps. Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis was back, too.
Second-year safety Clayton Geathers put in six tackles and forced a game-clinching fumble in his second game back from a broken foot. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie blocked an extra point attempt. Linebacker Erik Walden sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers twice.
They saw Frank Gore come close to being the Colts’ first 100-yard rusher in 59 games, falling short with 82 yards. Gore also had a rushing touchdown on the day.
“Gore was running really hard, was very determined,” head coach Chuck Pagano said. “When he has success early, it sparks this offense, this football team, and they feed off of that. We need to continue and keep working to get that run game.”
They saw their team win, escaping 1-2 and avoiding 0-3.
“It’s huge,” Pagano said of the win. “Doomsday, soon thereafter. It isn’t but it is. This team needed this. We faced adversity today, and we found a way to win.”