ANDERSON — The fourth quarter Sunday at famed Candlestick Park began ominously.
Clinging to a 13-7 lead with his offense facing fourth-and-9 at San Francisco's 33-yard line, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano sent in the kicking team. The venerable stadium is notorious as a wind cavern, and the gusts pushed Adam Vinatieri's 51-yard attempt wide to the left.
It was the kind of moment that can haunt a team. The sort of thing that gets replayed on the nightly highlight shows and causes fans to curse fate.
But not this time. Not with Indianapolis suddenly showing it's more ChuckStrong than ever.
Instead of mounting a demoralizing comeback, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers were limited to just seven plays on their next two possessions. And by the time San Francisco got the football back for a 10-play march with 2:55 remaining, the Colts already had put their 27-7 victory on ice.
Andrew Luck capped an 80-yard drive on the possession after the missed field goal with a 6-yard touchdown run, then linebacker Jerrell Freeman forced a Kaepernick fumble on a third-down sack and Indianapolis recovered at the Niners' 8-yard line.
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw powered in from the 1 three plays later, and San Francisco was on its way to back-to-back losses for the first time in head coach Jim Harbaugh's three-year tenure.
"We had to make a statement," defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said. "We knew it was going to be a Frazier-Ali fight. But we had to make sure we got the last punch in."
That the Colts were even able to stand in the middle of the ring and exchange haymakers with one of the NFL's most physical teams was a testament to the job Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have done of remaking this roster in the head coach's image.