Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who's become rather adept at the late-game score, has a whirlwind of thoughts in his mind.
Left tackle Castonzo, the biggest protector of Luck as he drops back, relies on training and instinct.
“There's absolutely no thinking that goes on at that point, it's just 'I have to go out and put everything I have into this,' ” Castonzo said. “You have to turn it up to that next level and that's kind of what happened (at Detroit). It was kind of just a blur.”
Luck has directed five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, a huge reason why the Colts are 8-4 as they prepare for the Tennessee Titans (4-8) this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. The overtime drive, in fact, was at Tennessee.
Those drives are tough at home, tougher on the road with the roar of the crowd and the inherent adrenalin of the defense.
“It's a little bit different when you've got no snap count to work on,” Castonzo said. “Everything gets zoned in. Every detail is so minute, it's like you have to rely on what you practiced and hope it comes through.”
With no timeouts, Luck had to rely on quick plays and quick thinking. Among the clutch plays was a first-down run off a scramble, with Luck stepping out of bounds to stop the clock. On another pass near the sideline to fellow rookie Dwayne Allen, Allen stepped out.
Castonzo said there's no time to stop and contemplate the plays in the moment. Luck hit Donnie Avery for the game-winning touchdown as the clock hit zero.
“We got done celebrating and I'm thinking, 'Wow, I'm exhausted,' first of all,” Castonzo said. “Second of all, 'That actually just happened?' It's crazy. It really is a crazy blur.”
Luck has calm beyond his years in those situations and his teammates build confidence from that.
Castonzo came into the league as a rookie last season expecting to protect Peyton Manning. The two never played together since Manning was sidelined in 2011 with his neck injury. But Luck is performing a close facsimile of Manning's knack for late-game drives.
The Colts' weekly media release points out that Luck leads all NFL quarterbacks in passing yards in the final two minutes of regulation.
He has completed 52 of 96 passes for 706 yards and four touchdowns (and three interceptions) in the final two minutes of games. Those aren't all in winning drives, of course, but they hint at his performance when the game's on the line. The Colts are 7-1 in one-score games this season.
“We've had some success with the two-minute (offense),” Luck said. “We've had some success with the regular tempo as well. Maybe something clicks when our backs are against the wall.”
The successful late-game charge can't rest on the quarterback alone. The line must protect. The receivers must run the right routes. On the game-winning touchdown pass to Avery in Detroit, Avery was the “outlet” receiver in case all others were covered, which they were.
“B.A. (interim coach Bruce Arians) called the right play at the right time and No.12 executed it properly,” Avery said.
It's as simple as that. But it sure looks chaotic, making it all the more impressive that a relatively young team with players playing their first season together can find a way to drive in the game's most pressure-packed moments.
“When the time came to really put a drive together, we had the winning attitude we've had all year,” Castonzo said. “In that last moment we always have that winning attitude, and that's what led to it. It's something we need all game this time around. Let's not wait until the end to do it.”The Colts announced they will have permanent captains the remainder of the season, as voted by the players.
The captains are Luck and Reggie Wayne on offense, Robert Mathis and Cory Redding on defense and Joe Lefeged and Pat McAfee on special teams.
In other news, running back Donald Brown and safety Tom Zbikowski will miss the Tennessee game with injuries.
Tennessee at ColtsKickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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