Colts rally, top Falcons on Vinatieri FG
ATLANTA (AP) The ol’ geezers came through for the Indianapolis Colts.
Forty-year-old Matt Hasselbeck throwing a pair of touchdown passes in relief of Andrew Luck.
Adam Vinatieri, the oldest player in the league at 42, adding another game-winning kick to his brilliant career.
The result: a 24-21 victory Sunday over the slumping Atlanta Falcons, after the Colts rallied from a pair of two-touchdown deficits.
D’Qwell Jackson tied it with just over 10 minutes remaining on a 6-yard interception return for a touchdown. Then Vinatieri won it, as he’s done so many times before, on a 43-yard field goal with 52 seconds remaining.
”The guy is wearing Depends and he’s just knocking down game-winners every week,” said Colts punter Pat McAfee, who is also Vinatieri’s holder. ”It’s incredible to watch. I’m lucky to be teammates with that guy.”
After losing star running back Devonta Freeman to a concussion early in the game, the Falcons (6-4) still managed to build leads of 14-0 and 21-7. But the offense totally bogged down in the second half, turned it over four times, and failed to take advantage of three Indianapolis turnovers.
Now, a season that began with such promise under new coach Dan Quinn is in danger of falling apart. Atlanta started 5-0, but has lost four of five.
Matt Ryan was intercepted three times. Atlanta lost even though Julio Jones had another huge game, hauling in nine passes for 160 yards.
”We haven’t finished a game in about a month,” receiver Roddy White said. ”We’ve got to find a way to finish one of them.”
Vinatieri sure knows how to finish. Playing in his 300th game, he booted his 26th game-winning kick in either the final minute of regulation or overtime.
”I don’t ever think you get totally used to it,” he said. ”But the excitement is always there.”
With injured Andrew Luck helping out on the sideline, Hasselbeck overcame a couple of interceptions and calmly led the winning drive, covering 56 yards in nine plays. The big play was a short pass that Frank Gore – no spring chicken at 32 – took to midfield for a 31-yard gain.
Hasselbeck is 3-0 as a starter this season when Luck’s been hurt.
”Matt, the old seasoned vet, is doing a fantastic job just winning games for us,” Vinatieri said. ”I feel very fortunate to have him leading us while Andrew is out.”
The Colts remained tied for first in the AFC East despite a disappointing season that has put heat on the front office and coach Chuck Pagano. With Luck out up to six weeks with a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle, Indianapolis came through with its second straight victory.
Ryan threw three touchdown passes for the Falcons, but will remember this one for the awful throw from his own end zone that Jackson snatched.
”It’s just a play I can’t make,” Ryan said.
The Falcons jumped ahead with help from a rarely used offensive fullback. Fullback Patrick DiMarco, known mostly as a blocker, tripled his career touchdown output by hauling in a couple of scoring passes.
Hasselbeck was 23 of 32 for 213 yards, throwing a pair of touchdown passes to Ahmad Bradshaw and shaking off two interceptions.
The Atlanta offense couldn’t do anything after Leonard Hankerson hauled in a 3-yard touchdown pass on the first possession of the second half, managing only 67 yards the rest of way with as many turnovers as first downs (three each).
The most crucial mistake came after the Colts downed a punt inside the 1. With the running game struggling, Ryan attempted a play-action pass over the middle. Jackson, after feigning that he was coming up to stuff the run, dropped back into coverage.
Ryan never saw him. Jackson picked off the pass at the 6 and brought it back for a pick-six that happened in the blink of an eye.
Freeman went down after ripping off a 39-yard run deep into Colts territory. That cost Atlanta the league’s third-leading rusher, leaving rookies Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward to handle the backfield duties. Coleman was held to 48 yards on 17 carries.
”It’s tough,” Ryan said. ”Devonta’s been such a big part of what we’ve done this season.”
NOTES: DiMarco’s only other TD before Sunday was a scoring catch last season at Minnesota. … Vinatieri has two game-winning kicks this season, also beating Jacksonville in overtime. … Gore went out early in the game with a quad injury, but returned to rush for 34 yards and catch five passes for 46 yards.
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