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The Colts played up to Andrew Luck's level, for this week anyway

Luck has been great most of the season. The Colts finally joined him.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. –- He strode to the podium wearing a soiled "Property of Colts" t-shirt and white game pants with green stains on Sunday at Nissan Stadium. He was first at the postgame mic, ahead of coach Chuck Pagano. This flip in postgame hierarchical order is the way the Indianapolis Colts sometimes do it, but not the way most NFL teams do it. It fits, because that’s the plot, that’s the buzz, that Andrew Luck is the entire ball of wax with the Colts and everything around him reeks.

That the ownership is awful and the coaching is atrocious and all of the other players dreadful. That this exalted quarterback does it all and that his neighboring bums are slaughtering his prime pro years.

He is in his fifth season now, at 27 years old — but people act like he’s 70 and that he’s been playing for 50 years. He’s just that type of fixture. A given. A rarity. The consummate quarterback model.

Yet, the Colts arrived here 2-4, fresh off a collapsing loss at Houston, reeling and torched in the front office (general manager Ryan Grigson), the coaching (Pagano), and the players (all). A cast of Colts that were edgy and stressed. The Tennessee Titans were 3-3 and hoped to send the entire bunch into immediate and entrenched therapy.

Had they been listening intently lately, self-examination was inevitable.

They swear they weren’t.

"You cannot allow that to be so defining, the outside view, you just can’t listen to it," Colts tight end Jack Doyle said.

"There is not a person in here who is afraid to prove himself," Colts linebacker Josh McNary said.

Colts defensive tackle T.Y. McGill was passionate: "That stuff comes from the outside looking in, not from within. We know what we do Mondays through Sundays to get ready for Sundays. We have some of the hardest-working people in the world. I come from a place (Jesup, Ga.) where I know that nothing is given to you."

Pagano knows the story.

"When you are 2-4, things are going to get heavy and people are going to look at everything and try to take you to some nasty places," he said. "It’s a team game, it always has been, it always will be, and you take all 46, like we did today, and all of them have different roles and it never falls on one guy alone. Andrew is a great player, talent, and teammate. But I have never seen a team win with just one player."

Luck leapt in. He was asked about three of his prime offensive weapons who were injured and out against the Titans.

"We as a team," he said, "if we’re dealt those cards, we embrace it."

He talked about the locker room being the most "joyful spot in the world" after victory and how it was "addicting" and how he was "a slave to that feeling and that emotion."

He meant it, because the Colts’ 34-26 victory over the Titans provided the kind of instant football healing the Colts needed. The Colts made a few boneheaded plays and decisions, but it did not overshadow that Luck led and the rest rose. The entire team made game-swinging plays that sparked its 10th straight victory over Tennessee.

Luck has helped direct eight of those 10.

He arrived here having been sacked 23 times, most in the league, and pounded in losses to Detroit, Denver, Jacksonville, and Houston and pounded even in victories over San Diego and Chicago.

He was averaging 39.5 passes a game, most in the league except for Drew Brews (45) and Jameis Winston (41.4). The Colts dialed exactly 39 passes for Luck against Tennessee. He threw 28 toward wide receivers, six toward running backs, and five toward tight ends.

It was a game-long incredible display of ball dispersal and pocket awareness. He was sacked twice, once fewer than Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. And Luck’s 27 completions went for 353 yards and three touchdowns.

As good as he was, it was the "bums" around him who made a mark.

Doyle missed a tough, potential touchdown catch on a bullet throw in the end zone early but made a game-winning, 7-yard scoring catch with 1:55 left.

Before that, McNary had allowed Titans tight end Delanie Walker to get inside leverage in the end zone for a scoring catch that tied the game at 20. Tennessee would later take a 23-20 lead with 6:02 left. After the Walker score, McNary was met by teammates and coaches as he arrived to the bench, both offering him plenty of instruction.

"I was just reminded that no one play is defining in a game," he said. "I was reminded to stay task conscious."

He did. The Colts defense did. McGill, eight seconds after Doyle’s big play, stripped the ball from Mariota. Teammate Robert Mathis grabbed it and ran 14 yards for a touchdown. Doyle with the hammer. McGill with the chop. Mathis with the clincher.

More than Luck.

"We know that Andrew is everything you want in a leader," Doyle said. "A team needs a leader to follow. He is easy to follow. And if you follow him, you will be in good shape."

McNary said the Colts’ goal is to follow Luck in performance.

"You see him under pressure make plays and you know you have to do the same, that it’s a team effort," McNary said. "He leads through the front door. He is accountable. We are accountable also to him."

Luck is a big quarterback with a big arm who can find secondary receivers with wit and flair. He is first to admit he cannot do it alone. But he is also first to say he is not alone.

The Colts play at home against Kansas City next then go to Green Bay. This victory gave them a jolt in the AFC South race with Houston, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. The Colts’ season is this continual question -– is the cast around Andrew Luck good enough?

"I tell our guys to say hungry, to say focused and ready," said the Colts’ 11th-year linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. "Big tests are coming. The great thing about this game is you get the chance to answer every test."