By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
The Indianapolis Colts know they can't keep living like this.
They thought they broke the habit after a Week 2 loss against Miami. There had been a need for just one fourth-quarter comeback since then, and that came against one of the best teams in the NFL — the Seattle Seahawks.
But there they were last Sunday night in Houston, trailing 24-6 late in the third quarter and turning to their second-year savior.
Once again, Andrew Luck delivered.
The sophomore quarterback threw three touchdown passes to T.Y. Hilton in the final 15:11, Texans kicker Randy Bullock cooperated by missing two fourth-quarter field goal tries and Luck led the 10th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime of his 24-game professional career to steal a 27-24 victory.
"It definitely helps to have Andrew Luck at quarterback," linebacker Pat Angerer said of the team's penchant for come-from-behind wins. "That guy is unbelievable. We put him in so many tough positions, and he's bailed us out a lot. It's nice."
The Colts are 10-2 with Luck under center in games that are decided by seven points or less. But as the team has risen toward Super Bowl contention this season, Luck has needed to pull off his escape artist act less frequently.
There was a come-from-behind win against Oakland in the season opener and then nothing until the Seahawks game three weeks later. The Texans game raises questions because it was the first played without veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, Luck's favorite target.
Hilton, himself a rising second-year star, stepped up with seven catches for 121 yards. But much of that production came in the second half.
The offense struggled mightily for the better part of three quarters, and Luck was particularly rough in the first half — completing just three of 12 pass attempts. It's an extreme example but still part of a disturbing trend of slow starts by the Colts this year.
"We know we need to execute better, much better, to start games," the quarterback said. "You can't survive your mistakes forever, in a sense. We'll focus on it and try and improve."
The next shot comes today at home against the St. Louis Rams (3-6).
Indianapolis (6-2) has played in prime time in three of the past four weeks, with the lone exception coming on the bye week. So there has been speculation about whether the team might suffer a letdown against an opponent on the fringe of the playoff race.
Veteran defensive end Cory Redding said that's not going to happen.
"We get ourselves ready to go regardless of who we play or what their record is," he said. "You only have so many opportunities every year so why not get yourself up for a game, regardless of if it's (national) TV or not? It's what we do. It's competitors. It was a big game last week, and this week is a big game because it's the next one."
The Rams agree with that tunnel-vision philosophy. Not that there's much they'd care to revisit from the recent past.
St. Louis has lost three consecutive games, with the last two coming at home by a total of 14 points. Quarterback Sam Bradford is out for the season, replaced by Kellen Clemens — who is asked to manage the game rather than make big plays to win it.
But that doesn't mean the Rams can't be dangerous.
Rookie running back Zac Stacy has gone over the 100-yard mark in each of the past two weeks, and only Green Bay's Eddie Lacey has rushed for more yards across the league since Stacy became the full-time starter five weeks ago.
"He's really given us a boost," St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher said.
The Rams also have one of the league's best defensive fronts, putting extreme pressure on quarterbacks with defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and getting outstanding all-around play from middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
The Colts will need to find a way to slow that pass rush after struggling against Houston. Luck was sacked four times and hit a total of 11, adding to the offense's woes.
There's going to be a period of adjustment without Wayne as part of the attack, and somebody needs to step forward to help Hilton carry the load.
But Indianapolis is confident it can keep finding ways to win.
"Everybody has got to step up," Hilton said. "It's a team game, and once we continue to do that, we should be fine."