INDIANAPOLIS — The latest must-have-it Sunday offered just about everything, including overtime.
But the most important takeaway from what took place at Nissan Stadium:
Indianapolis Colts 31, Tennessee Titans 28.
A team that experienced the chaos of a 4-12-1 season in 2022 has gathered itself behind coach Shane Steichen’s leadership. The Colts have won four straight and swept the Titans, both for the first time since 2018, and their 7-5 record has them in position for a wild card playoff spot with five games remaining.
The New York Times’ playoff simulator has Indy’s playoff odds at roughly 66%.
“It’s awesome to see our guys fight every single week and just keep finding ways to win,’’ Steichen said.
*Have won two overtime games for the first time since 1995.
*Had two 100-yard players in the same game for the first time since 2014 (Coby Fleener and Donte Moncrief). Michael Pittman Jr. reinforced his go-to role with 11 receptions, 105 yards and the walk-off 4-yard touchdown at the 2:31 mark of overtime.
Wideout Alec Pierce finally was a difference-maker with three catches for 100 yards. His first career 100-yard game included a 36-yard touchdown on the Colts’ opening drive and a 55-yard reception in overtime that produced a first-and-goal at the 4-yard-line and set up the quarterback Gardner Minshew II’s and Pittman’s dramatics.
*Followed the always-entertaining lead of Minshew. He orchestrated the sixth game-winning drive of his career by passing for 312 yards and two TDs. It was Minshew’s second game-winning drive of the season. Both have come on the road and in overtime (week 3 at Baltimore).
The win was his fourth straight as a starter, the longest streak of his career.
“To get that game-winning drive by Gardner was huge,’’ Steichen said.
*Dominated special teams. On consecutive Ryan Stonehouse punts in the second half, Nick Cross smothered the first that Grant Stuard — Mr. Irrelevant of the 2021 draft — returned 18 yards for a touchdown. Defensive back Tony Brown forced a fumble on the second by soaring in from his wide-left gunner position and plowing into Stonehouse before he had the chance to put foot to ball.
Oh, and Matt Gay was pure on 23, 46 and 28-yard field goal attempts. By contrast, Titans placekicker Nick Folk yanked a PAT wide left after Tennessee drew even at 25-all with 5 minutes remaining on quarterback Will Levis’ 3-yard TD to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
“Special teams probably won the game,’’ Minshew said.
*Found a way despite finishing 1-for-5 in the red zone — Pittman’s TD, three Gay field goals, a crippling fumble by Minshew — converting just 3-of-14 times on third down and having Minshew’s two-point conversion attempt returned for a pick-2 by Amani Hooker. The defense yielded 177 rushing yards, and benefitted from running back Derrick Henry (102 yards on 21 carries) missing the final 11 minutes of regulation and OT with a concussion.
“I know it wasn’t pretty the whole time,’’ Steichen said. “I’m saying (that) the whole game.’’
Yet, the Colts found a way, again. Their last three wins have been decided by four, seven and six points, respectively.
“Just the mental toughness, you know what I mean?’’ Steichen said. “I think it’s just the guys believing.’’
The game-long belief was rewarded as Minshew worked some late-game magic after the Titans took a 28-25 lead in overtime by driving for Folk’s 45-yard field goal to open overtime.
The game-winning drive began with a 9-yard completion to Pittman and ended with Pittman’s 4-yard TD, but it was Pierce’s career-long 55-yard reception that set the stage for the dramatic finish.
The Colts’ inability to make better use of Pierce’s deep-threat skills this season had come under scrutiny. The 2022 second-round draft pick entered the game with 291 yards and 22 catches on 39 targets.
“I was really happy to get AP involved, hitting him with a couple of deep ones, man,’’ Minshew said. “He’s really been doing a great job, and we haven’t been able to get him going.’’
The message was clear as the Colts’ offense took the field in overtime.
“We just said we needed to go out there and make plays and Alec probably made the biggest play of the whole game,’’ Pittman told reporters in the locker room. “I’m just so proud of him and everything he’s done.
“That’s the biggest play I’ve seen this year.’’
Pittman’s 4-yard TD might argue the point.
On first-and-goal, he lined up in the slot to the right. Pierce was to his right.
Pittman had noticed during the game that Titans’ defensive backs were passing off coverage responsibilities. He initially faked an out route, then cut inside. Cornerback Trey Avery, who was lined up on Pierce, broke inside to cover Pittman, but had no chance as Minshew delivered a strike.
Pittman celebrated by tossing the football into the stands.
“Gardner put up a perfect pass, and I just had to catch it,’’ Pittman said.
And Minshew felt the urgency to finish.
“It means a lot, man,’’ he said. “Anytime you’re playing the quarterback position, the team’s putting a lot of trust in you to kind of lead the way.
“Today we had the opportunity to go win a game for our team and just couldn’t be more happy, more proud of our group.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter/X at @mchappell51.