ATLANTA — Give a hand to the old guys.
Relying on a pair of 40-somethings, the Indianapolis Colts rallied from a pair of two-touchdown deficits to beat the slumping Atlanta Falcons 24-21 on Sunday.
Adam Vinatieri, the oldest player in the league at 42, added another winning kick to his sterling resume, booting a 43-yarder with 52 seconds remaining. The Colts won with 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck throwing a pair of touchdown passes filling in for injured Andrew Luck.
D’Qwell Jackson tied the game with just over 10 minutes remaining on a 6-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Then, it was Vinatieri who won it for the Colts (5-5), as he’s done so many times in his brilliant career. In his 300th game, he came through with his 26th game-winning kick in either the final minute of regulation or overtime.
The Falcons (6-4) lost for the fourth time in five games after a 5-0 start. This one was on the offense, which totally bogged down in the second half.
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 took 31 yards to midfield.
The Colts came in 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.
Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes for the Falcons, but he also was picked off three times — including an awful throw from his own end zone that Jackson snatched. Julio Jones had nine catches for 160 yards.
The Falcons built a 14-0 lead by employing 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 throws, one from 15 yards out, the other a 1-yarder. Coming into the game, DiMarco had only one TD in his four-year career.
After the Colts cut it to 14-7 at halftime on the first of two Hasselbeck-to-Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown passes, Atlanta restored its two-score cushion on the first possession of the third quarter. Leonard Hankerson dropped a throw over the middle that should have been a TD, but got another chance when Vontae Davis was called for an illegal use of hands.
Two plays later, Hankerson hauled in a 3-yard pass from Ryan for the score.
The Atlanta offense couldn’t do anything after that, managing only 67 yards and as many turnovers as first downs (three each). Hasselbeck’s 2-yard touchdown pass Bradshaw capped a 90-yard drive that was pushed along by three Falcons penalties.
After downing a punt inside the 1, the Colts stacked the line and dared the Falcons to throw. Ryan took the bait, attempting a play-action pass over the middle. But 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.