By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- After spending most of the first three games and most of the first 3 1/2 quarters Sunday trying to figure out what the Colts were doing wrong, coach Tony Dungy watched the final five minutes in Houston wondering where the precision, passion and efficiency had been all season.
"You just don't have that many 15 or 17-point comebacks in the NFL, and we've had two in three weeks," Dungy said. "Then, we have another game where we score to take the lead and don't hold it. It's been a rollercoaster, but it probably just tells us that we aren't playing consistent enough."
The obvious lesson: Indianapolis (2-2) must start playing better from the start.
So far, Indy has been anything but perfect this season. The run defense ranks among the worst in the league, and the traditionally high-scoring offense has been mostly out of sync.
But in those closing minutes, the Colts have somehow found a way to pull things together, and it was never more apparent than at Houston.
Trailing 27-10 with a little more than eight minutes left, Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes and the defense forced two turnovers, returning one for another touchdown. It took just 2 minutes, 10 seconds to wipe out that 17-point deficit and turn the Reliant Stadium crowd from boisterous to boo-birds.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the frantic rally was the largest comeback in the final five minutes to ever produce a victory in regulation, and it came almost five years to the day after Manning orchestrated a remarkable 21-point rally in the last four minutes at Tampa Bay. the Colts eventually won that one, too, 38-35 in overtime.
This time, however, the stakes were higher.
Indy's hopes for a sixth straight AFC South title were slipping away with every tick of the clock. A loss would have left the Colts with an 0-2 mark against division teams and put them in last place in the division chase.
Instead, the win, coupled with Jacksonville's loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night, now has Indianapolis in second place and players hoping that the improbable rally will spark a resurgence that carries the Colts through the rest of the season.
"I think a lot of guys on this team needed that experience," said defensive tackle Raheem Brock. "We were never down and out."
But Steve Slaton seemingly sealed it when he scored on a 1-yard run to give Houston a 27-10 lead -- the Texans' largest lead in 13 games against the Colts -- with 8:18 left.
Manning, the two-time league MVP and a master of late-game improvisation, had other plans.
After leading Indianapolis to the final 18 points at Minnesota in Week 2, erasing a 15-0 deficit, and helping the Colts score the go-ahead touchdown with 1:07 left against Jacksonville in Week 3, Manning had another trick ready to go Sunday with a little help.
He capped an 81-yard drive with a fourth-down TD pass to rookie tight end Tom Santi, making it 27-17 with 4:04 to go. Then Marlin Jackson sent a leaping Sage Rosenfels into a helicopter spin as Brock raced over and forced a fumble that middle linebacker Gary Brackett scooped up. Brackett beat an offensive lineman down the sidelines, running 68 yards for a score to make it 27-24 with 3:36 left.
Rosenfels made another miscue on the next series, when he scrambled left and left the ball dangling in his right arm. Speedy defensive end Robert Mathis made a two-handed swat, forcing another fumble that Mathis fell on.
Two plays later, Reggie Wayne made a spectacular one-handed TD catch just inside the sideline and a few seconds later, Melvin Bullitt wrapped it up by picking off Rosenfels.
"It comes to a point where it's just energy and making things happen and not being denied, two guys flying to the quarterback and the ball ends up coming loose," Dungy said. "Robert Mathis diving from six feet behind the guy and stripping the ball, sometimes you just have to do that."
The hope in Indianapolis, though, is that Sunday's comeback was merely the start of something much bigger.
"For three quarters of the game, we self-destructed," Dungy said. "We didn't play with the passion you have to play with in those types of games. Hopefully, we can build on what we saw in those last five minutes and grow from there."