By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — After slogging through nine of its first 10 quarters without veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, the Indianapolis Colts' offense finally appeared to come to life in the second half Thursday night at Tennessee.
The Colts scored 24 points in the final two quarters — and dominated time of possession — in yet another come-from-behind victory with the 30-27 decision.
But will this be a lasting change or another mirage, like the 21 points the team scored in the final 15:11 at Houston to win 27-24 on Nov. 3?
Nobody can say for certain. But something felt different this time around.
Instead of coming in one quick burst, the points Thursday were spread out over several drives. And the turnaround actually began in the second quarter when two promising possessions slowed short of the end zone and led to field goals.
"I would say that guys are kind of understanding that they're going to need to grow a little bit faster than they may have anticipated," tight end Coby Fleener said last week, when asked whether the offense is beginning to find its identity without Wayne. "With Reggie out there, there's a constant threat of him making a big play. Now you kind of see that T.Y. (Hilton) can step up into that role or Darrius Heyward-Bey can step up into that role. I think for the Colts going forward, it's just a matter of us making sure we can do that consistently."
Fleener can be a big part of that picture. He posted career highs with eight catches and 107 yards in the win against the Titans and has 15 receptions for 204 yards in the past three games.
Quarterback Andrew Luck spread the ball around to eight different receivers, including five completions to running back Trent Richardson and one to fullback Stanley Havili. But he made a living working the ball to Fleener on underneath routes, completing seven of nine short-range targets to the tight end for 91 yards.
"I think he's realizing with Reg going down, with (fellow tight end) Dwayne (Allen) being out, that it's a great opportunity this year to really be the guy," Luck told the media Monday. "He's done a great job. His stat line continues to get better and better. His production has been great since he's been here, and he's a great teammate."
Indianapolis has been looking for ways to consistently move the football without Wayne, whose loss is particularly challenging on third down. But the offense was surprisingly efficient at Tennessee, especially in the second half.
The Colts scored on six of nine possessions overall and four of five after intermission — excluding a three-play series to run out the clock in the game's final 1:54. Indianapolis had four scoring drives of 65 yards or more, and all four took at least 11 plays to complete.
Some of the credit goes to running back Donald Brown, who carried the ball 14 times for 80 yards and two scores — restoring balance to the offensive force. But much falls on Luck's shoulders.
The second-year quarterback completed passes to two players — wide receiver Griff Whalen and tight end Weslye Saunders — who weren't even on the active roster when Wayne was injured during an Oct. 20 win against Denver.
Indianapolis (7-3) is in good position as it prepares for Sunday's road game against the Arizona Cardinals (6-4). Wins in the next two weeks would clinch the team's first AFC South championship since 2010 and allow the Colts to spend the final four games of the season focusing on playoff seeding.
But Indianapolis knows it needs to continue getting production from all outposts of the locker room if it hopes to stay afloat without its best receiver.
"Everybody in this locker room knows we all have to contribute someway, somehow — whether you're the backup receiver, the tight end or the starter," Luck said. "Whatever it is, you're going to be asked to contribute at some point."