INDIANAPOLIS - Apparently, winning is still too complex for the Detroit Lions.
Two turnovers, short fields and playing against a worn down, short-handed Colts defense wasn't the answer, either.
Peyton Manning led the Colts on two fourth-quarter scoring drives, delivering another blow to Detroit's psyche with a 31-21 victory yesterday and keeping the Lions on track for a winless season.
"No one wants to be part of that. No one wants to have their name involved with that," quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. "It's tough to swallow, everybody says we stink. We don't have much debate with that."
Indianapolis (10-4) might quibble with that now, but nobody can argue the dreadful numbers.
Detroit (0-14) has lost 15 straight and 21 of 22. The Lions are two defeats away from becoming the first NFL team to finish 0-16.
The Lions have been close, losing five times by eight or fewer points. It would have been six if Adam Vinatieri hadn't made a last-minute field goal Sunday, but close isn't good enough.
Manning was 28-of-37 for 318 yards and one touchdown, and although the Lions did a respectable job defending receivers, they allowed tight end Dallas Clark to roam free.
Clark finished with 12 receptions, a single-game franchise record for tight ends, 142 yards and one acrobatic touchdown catch. He broke his single-season record for receptions by a tight end and set a career high with 684 yards.
"I don't think you can ever have the perfect game," Clark said. "That's what you love about this game, it keeps you driven."
The Colts fumbled four times, had a potential scoring drive derailed by a holding penalty and the defense struggled to get off the field in the second half.
Yet they clicked when it mattered most.
Indy (10-4) has won seven straight, earned double-digit victories for a seventh straight season, and can clinch a seventh straight playoff spot with a win Thursday at Jacksonville.
"We weren't as sharp as we'd like to be. We couldn't make the plays we needed to put the game away, but it's something we expected," coach Tony Dungy said. "You obviously can't mishandle two punts and give them short fields. Those are situations that usually get you beat."
While the miscues made the game more competitive than expected, the Lions couldn't capitalize.
They settled for field goals after twice starting drives inside the Colts 40, and couldn't stop Manning.
Dominic Rhodes, who replaced Joseph Addai (shoulder) in the lineup, ran 20 times for 86 yards and two TDs including the winner with 8:39 left. Rookie Chad Simpson scored the first touchdown of his career, and Reggie Wayne caught seven passes for 104 yards.
And against a defense missing three starters - safety Bob Sanders, middle linebacker Gary Brackett and defensive tackle Keyunta Dawson - Orlovsky hooked up with Calvin Johnson nine times for 110 yards and one score. Orlovsky took over for Daunte Culpepper, who couldn't throw because of a right shoulder injury.
"We're getting better," coach Rod Marinelli said. "We've got to keep working hard, find a way to win. If I could do anything different to get a win, whether it's our first game or 50th game, I would do it."
After falling into a 21-10 halftime deficit, the Lions fought back.
Keiwan Ratliff fumbled a punt early in the third quarter, setting up Jason Hanson's 31-yard field goal. Kevin Smith followed that by looping around the left side for a one-yard TD run with 12:52 left in the game. Orlovsky tied it at 21 with a two-point conversion pass to Casey FitzSimmons.
It was all Manning after that.
He methodically marched the Colts 88 yards, finally giving to Rhodes for a one-yard TD run and a 28-21 lead, and he closed it out by grinding out nearly all of the final 5 minutes before Vinatieri's 30-yard kick sealed it with 39 seconds left.
"I thought we played good enough to win," Lions cornerback Travis Fisher said. "I'm just trying to get a win. Who cares about being close? Who cares about any of the other things? The only pressure on us is we need to get a win, period."
Notes: Hanson's 51-yard field goal in the first quarter broke a tie with Morten Andersen for the most in league history. Hanson has made 41 field goals of 50 or more yards. He's also the first kicker in league history to be 8-of-8 on 50-yarders in a season. ... In the second quarter, Manning passed Vinny Testaverde for sixth on the NFL's career completions list. Testaverde had 3,787, Manning has 3,803. ... Detroit safety Dwight Smith fractured his ankle in the second quarter, and cornerback Keith Smith left with a groin injury. ... Johnson's 10 TD receptions are the most by a Lions player since Herman Moore had 14 in 1995. ... Wayne topped 1,000 yards for the fifth straight season. ... Colts receiver Marvin Harrison had two receptions to move past Tim Brown for third on the NFL career list. Harrison has 1,095 catches and needs seven to pass Cris Carter.
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