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NFL Preview - St. Louis (3-6) at Indianapolis (6-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - An 18-point deficit and no Reggie Wayne seemed to spell doom for the Indianapolis Colts last weekend.
For Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton, difficult took about 20 minutes to overcome.
The young Colts duo aim to lead their club to a third straight victory this Sunday when they play host to the struggling St. Louis Rams.
Indianapolis came out of its bye week with no Wayne, having lost the star wide receiver to a season-ending to a torn ACL in an Oct. 20 victory over Denver, and trailed by a 24-6 margin with 4:25 to play in the third quarter of a road game versus the rival Houston Texans.
That is when Luck and Hilton went to work, with the tandem hooking up for three touchdowns over the final quarter-plus of action, including the go-ahead nine-yard score with 4:00 minutes remaining.
Luck also hooked up with Hilton for touchdowns of 10 and 58 yards to complete a comeback that tied for the sixth-largest in franchise history.
"It's football. Anything happens, sometimes. That's why you have halftime and we were able to come in here and make corrections," noted Indy safety Antoine Bethea.
Luck threw for 271 yards, while Hilton tied a single-game franchise record with his three receiving touchdowns. He finished with a career-high seven receptions for 121 yards.
Tight end Coby Fleener added three receptions for 64 yards and also caught a two-point conversion pass following Hilton's third TD, while linebacker Pat Angerer had a game-high 12 tackles.
"I think we all stepped up," Hilton said. "When we lost '87' (Wayne), we knew we all had to come together and just make plays."
By doing so, the 6-2 Colts maintained a two-game lead over the 4-4 Tennessee Titans for first place in the AFC South. Indy still has two games left with Tennessee, including next Thursday's road test.
The Rams were unable to give the Colts some help last weekend, falling 28-21 to the visiting Titans. That gave St. Louis its third straight loss following a 3-3 start.
Making his second straight start in place of the injured Sam Bradford (knee), Kellen Clemens threw for 210 yards and a touchdown on 20-of-35 passing, but his late fumble helped set up Tennessee's go-ahead score with 2:54 to play.
"We turned it over twice to a good running football team like that that's playing good defense," said Fisher. "It's hard to win. Now granted, we got (turnovers), but we didn't take advantage of them."
Zac Stacey continued his breakout performance out of the backfield with a pair of rushing touchdowns and 127 yards on the ground while adding six receptions for 51 yards.
Jared Cook also recorded a TD reception in defeat, while cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Rodney McLeod had interceptions.
The Rams are set to visit the Colts for the first time since the 2005 season and Indianapolis has won two straight and three of the previous four meetings.
The Colts lead the all-time series 23-17-2.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Luck continued to show he has the confidence and moxie to play a full four quarters. He has 13 touchdown passes to just three interceptions and last Sunday led his 10th career fourth quarter/overtime game-winning drive.
That surpassed Jake Plummer for the most in a quarterback's first two seasons since 1970.
He is also 10-2 at home in his career with 20 TDs and six interceptions.
"He's unbelievable," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said of Luck. "When you look at the duress that he was under, the pressure that they were able to get on him and the hits, the way that he's always able to move on and put that behind him and play the next play, play the next series regardless of what's going on."
Hilton was a big part of that as the Colts played their first game without Wayne in 12 years. The wideout had a string of 189 consecutive starts snapped.
"It was very strange, very weird," Hilton said of not having Wayne out there. "And it showed in the first half that we weren't the same without him. But in the second half, we picked it up and guys stepped up and made plays."
Hilton leads the Colts with 533 receiving yards and his 34 catches are four back of Wayne for the team lead. Last weekend was his eighth career 100-yard receiving effort in 23 career games.
"T.Y. is a playmaker. Get the ball to T.Y. Every time he gets the ball, he makes plays," said Bethea.
While Hilton looks to step in for Wayne again this weekend, the Rams hope Stacy is the solution to their backfield that lost Steven Jackson to free agency this past offseason. Stacy opened the season slated behind Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead on the depth chart, but his 471 rushing yards leads the NFL since Week 5.
Stacy's two touchdowns were the first on the ground for St. Louis this season and he is the first Rams rookie to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games since Jackson in December of 2004.
And like Jackson, Stacy has shown an ability to make plays out of the backfield in the passing game with 13 receptions.
"That's one thing you have to be. You have to be versatile, coming out of the backfield, catching routes, whatever, just making plays," noted Stacy, whose Week 9 performance trailed only Jackson's 148 yards as the most by a rookie since the club moved to St. Louis in 1995.
Both Luck and Clemens figure to need their running backs this weekend given that their opponents can pressure the quarterback.
St. Louis has 11 sacks in its past two games and is tied for third in the NFL with 29 sacks on the season. Defensive end Robert Quinn leads the NFC and is fourth in the NFL with 10 sacks, while fellow end Chris Long has posted 5 1/2 sacks.
Quinn has 11 sacks in his past 10 games, while Long has 9 1/2 in his last 11 and 12 1/2 over his previous 14 meetings with an AFC opponent.
Defensive tackle Kendall Langford had a career-high two sacks last weekend for the Rams.
St. Louis' front will face one of the better current pass rushers in outside linebacker Robert Mathis, who leads the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks. That already matches his previous career high in a season, set in both 2005 and .08.
The 32-year-old Mathis, owner of 103 career sacks, has posted the most quarterback takedowns by a Colts player through the first eight games of the season since 1982.
Luck is losing Peyton Manning's shadow quicker than Peter Pan, showing his successful 2012 rookie season was no fluke. He'll be put to the test without Wayne and also faces a Rams squad that can get at it in the backfield.
The Colts, though, do have the 12th-best ground game in the NFL thanks to Trent Richardson and Donald Brown and rank in the top 10 in both putting points on the board and defensive scoring.
The Rams solid defense, especially against the pass, can keep them in games, but Bradford was struggling before going down with injury and Clemens is no upgrade. Stacy has been a breath of fresh air, but St. Louis will have trouble catching its oxygen in Indy.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 20, Rams 13
11/07 14:44:42 ET