- Mike Wells, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Andrew Luck's approach in dealing with his teammates is similar to how he plays the quarterback position. The Indianapolis Colts signal-caller often maintains his composure, rarely allowing anything to get under his skin.
That changed inside the walls of the locker room at LP Field at halftime Thursday.
Luck was frustrated, he was angry and he didn't hold back his feelings from his teammates.
"It was to a whole new level," punter Pat McAfee said. "Normally, he has a calming presence, meaning we know what we have to do to win the game. This was a different Andrew."
Luck had every right to clench his jaw and let loose.
The Colts, a team that has stuck together and fought through adversity on different levels the past two seasons, showed signs in the first half of cracking and possibly falling apart for the first time.
Another slow start and three straight unsportsmanlike penalties by the defense, including a childish head-butt by linebacker Erik Walden, had them looking like they'd be in a fight to hold on to first place in the AFC South.
All eyes were on Luck as he spoke, and his message sank in. The Colts got it together in the running and passing game to take complete control of the division with a 30-27 victory.
"He had that look in his eye," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. "He basically told the team to jump on his back. He really got caught up today when he was talking to us. He challenged everybody to fight and go out there and win this game. You like to hear that from your leader."
The Colts had to win this game. They had too much on the line to lose back-to-back games for the first time with Luck quarterbacking them.
Their image took a substantial hit when they were thoroughly outplayed and embarrassed at home by the St. Louis Rams last weekend, losing 38-8. But more important, the Colts' lead in the division would have been down to a game had they lost Thursday. Now they have a three-game advantage with six games remaining.
"This speaks to their character, their mindset," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "They are resilient. They were bound and determined to try to find a way to make amends for the home loss. Everyone was embarrassed, and they wanted to do whatever they could."
You would have never known the Colts wanted to make "amends" for what happened against the Rams with the way they opened the game Thursday.
The Titans went no huddle and used a spread offense to score on their first two series, taking a 14-0 lead.
A shaky offensive line, no running game and a struggling receiving group made a two-touchdown deficit seem like it would be significant obstacle for the Colts to overcome.
Tempers started to flare and frustration took a toll on the Indianapolis defense in the second quarter. The three unsportsmanlike penalties gave the Titans 41 free yards.
"A lot of it, I believe, was instigated by them," Redding said. "They always catch the second guy. We got the mentality we're not going to be no punks. We're going to stand up to whatever is going on the field, and we just got caught in the act three times."
The Colts went into the half trailing 17-6.
And that's when Luck used words, not his arm or legs, to get his team going.
"He had fire and passion with his talk," tackle Anthony Castonzo said. "He had some powerful words behind it. It's been three weeks in row that we were down at halftime. There was some frustration. He wanted to make sure we came back and won this thing."
The Colts didn't wait until the fourth quarter to pull off the comeback. They took Luck's words to heart and jumped on the Titans at the start of the third quarter by playing the type of football Pagano and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton envisioned when the season started.
The offensive line, which took a lot of criticism for its play against the Rams, had one of its best halves of the season by opening up holes for the running backs, and Luck used the short passing game to keep drives going.
Running back Donald Brown gained 51 of his 80 yards in the second half, and Luck was 11-of-15 for 124 yards without being sacked in the final 30 minutes of the game. The Colts totaled 137 rushing yards after being held to only 18 against the Rams.
"We weren't going to crumble," Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. "If we crumbled, I was going to fight somebody. It was a matter of not getting down on yourself, no pity parties. We were just going to go out and play football."
15hEric D. Williams
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