By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts spent the first 19 minutes Sunday showing how good they could be this season. The final 41 minutes proved there still is plenty of room for improvement.
Antoine Bethea's interception at his own 6-yard line with 25 seconds remaining in the game allowed the Colts to escape with a 21-17 season-opening victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. But the roar from a crowd of 65,412 was filled with more relief than genuine celebration.
"Hats off to the Raiders," Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano said. "We knew that they had a good football team, a talented football team. We knew the quarterback was a talented, talented guy and how important it was going to be to contain him. Obviously, they did a great job and had a great plan. But congratulations to everybody in that locker room — our players, our coaches — they did a phenomenal job. Our players did an unbelievable job of just hanging tough."
In just his second career start, Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor set a franchise record for his position with 112 rushing yards on 13 attempts. He also went 19-for-29 passing for 217 yards with one touchdown and two costly interceptions.
The Colts only caught up to Pryor once for a sack, but it was a huge one.
The Raiders had first-and-goal at the Indianapolis 8-yard line with 1:13 remaining when Pryor was flushed from the pocket and chased down by outside linebacker Robert Mathis for an 18-yard loss. His next pass was incomplete to tight end Mychal Rivera on the left side, and his third-down attempt was picked off by Bethea.
That ended a march that began at Oakland's 20-yard line and ate nearly five minutes off the clock.
"That guy is fast," Mathis said of the Raiders' third-year signal-caller. "He definitely showed up to play today. We just had to make one more play."
Indianapolis' own quarterback is not too bad, either.
Luck directed scoring drives of 89 and 69 yards to start the game, throwing a 12-yard pass to wide reciever Reggie Wayne to cap the first series and a 20-yarder to tight end Dwayne Allen to end the second.
Allen bull-rushed a Raiders defender after his catch and dragged another into the end zone for a 14-0 lead with 10:47 remaining in the second quarter.
But the good times weren't made to last.
The Colts gained just 62 total yards on their next four possessions, and Oakland scored 17 unanswered points to take the lead.
"It's a credit to Oakland," Luck said of Indianapolis' offensive lull. "They're the ones we were playing. They put us in a tough bind. Again, we're glad we won. But we're going to go back and we'll watch the film, and we'll get better. We will improve to Week 2."
The Raiders' comeback began with an 11-play, 85-yard touchdown run dominated by Pryor. The quarterback ran three times for 51 yards on the drive, but it was running back Darren McFadden who capped it with a 1-yard touchdown dive.
Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed a 48-yard field goal after the Colts botched a two-minute drive opportunity just before halftime. But he made amends with a 38-yarder early in the third quarter to cut Indianapolis' lead to four points.
The Colts attempted to get aggressive on the ensuing possession, going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Raiders' 43-yard line. But Luck was sacked for a 13-yard loss, and Indianapolis turned the ball over on downs.
The Raiders appeared to take the lead as the quarter ended, but Pryor's 30-yard touchdown pass to McFadden was overturned after a replay review.
Pryor bounced back with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore six plays later, and Oakland had the lead with 11:09 to play. That pass was the capper to an impressive day overall for the quarterback, but he took no pleasure in his performance.
"I did awful, I thought," Pryor said. "Two interceptions, could have won the game, had them on the ropes down there, and that's all that matters."
Instead it was Luck who directed his eighth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime and the fifth fourth-quarter comeback of his 17-game career.
The Colts answered Pryor's score with an 11-play, 80-yard drive of their own. The series ended with a 19-yard touchdown run by Luck — who finished 18-of-23 for 178 yards and two touchdowns and ran six times for 38 yards and another score.
On the game-winning score, Luck noticed the defense doubling over to Wayne — who made a game-high eight receptions for 96 yards. With the extra safety out of the box, Luck took off in search of a first down on third-and-4. When wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey cut off his route and threw a block in the open field, the quarterback's path was cleared into the end zone.
It was the sort of play the Colts have become accustomed to seeing their second-year quarterback make.
"He inspires everybody in the huddle," Wayne said. "Nothing seems to get him down, even when they took the lead today. We went out there and he said, 'This is going to be the drive, this is going to be the drive to win the game right here.' He is always confident, and he knows what he can do with his ability. We are blessed to have him and have nice strong legs. He plays like he is a 15-year vet."