Vanderjagt hit his NFL-record 41st consecutive field goal, a 43-yarder as time expired Sunday, leading Indianapolis to a 20-17 victory over the Houston Texans to clinch the AFC South.
"The uprights look pretty big right now," Vanderjagt said. "I told myself, 'If you hit it half-decent, it's going to go in more likely than not.' Doubt creeps in, but when you are hitting it this well, you kind of realize as long as you keep doing what you've been doing, it's going to go in."
The Colts host Denver in the first round of the playoffs next weekend. The Broncos, even without star running back Clinton Portis, won impressively at Indianapolis last weekend.
The Colts (12-4) were in trouble down the stretch, trailing 17-10 when Vanderjagt quick-kicked on a fake field goal try, pinning the Texans at their 4-yard line. Two plays later, David Carr threw a tipped ball right to Indianapolis safety Donald Strickland.
The Texans' offense faltered, but a holding penalty on a punt return forced the Colts to start the final drive from the 10. Indianapolis drove right back, buoyed by a big third-down catch by Marvin Harrison, to set up Vanderjagt's winner.
The Colts needed a win to secure their first division title since 1999 because Tennessee beat Tampa Bay on Sunday. Running back Edgerrin James, who ran for 171 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, said the Colts kept their poise even when they trailed by two touchdowns in the third quarter.
"We could have had people cursing each other on the sidelines. That never happened," James said. "The defense gave us a chance, and what better opportunity could Vanderjagt have? We've been saying he's the best kicker in he league, even though this was his first Pro Bowl (election)."
Vanderjagt, whose streak began last year, finished the season 37-of-37. He eclipsed Gary Anderson's record of 40 straight field goals set from 1997-98 with San Francisco and Minnesota.
He had the game-winning, record-breaking ball tucked in his locker after the game, but he's not ready to memorialize it quite yet.
"I'm going to keep it until next season, when 42 comes," Vanderjagt said. "Then I'll throw it away."
Manning overcame a slow start to go 26-of-38 for 220 yards with one interception and the touchdown to Stokley, who had nine catches for 67 yards.
Houston (5-11) finished its second season with a four-game skid, but was optimistic after taking AFC South powers Tennessee and Indianapolis down to the wire in the final two games. The Texans' last seven home games were decided by less than a touchdown.
"We've had our share of close games," Texans coach Dom Capers said. "It's a step-by-step process. You wish you could snap your fingers, but it's not that way."
Texans rookie Domanick Davis ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Davis, a fourth-round draft choice, finished with 1,031 yards despite not winning the starting job until the sixth week and being inactive for two games.
Houston's other rookie star, third overall pick Andre Johnson, had five catches for 51 yards. He finished with 976 on the season, meaning he and Davis fell short of becoming the first rookie teammates to have 1,000 yards receiving and rushing.
The Texans led 10-3 at halftime because of Davis' first score. He found a hole and broke through four attempted tackles for an 11-yard run.
The teams otherwise traded field goals, including a 36-yarder by the Texans' Kris Brown set up by a 41-yard interception return by Marcus Coleman. The Texans almost had a touchdown moments earlier, but the officials reversed an 18-yard scoring play when replay clearly showed Johnson had just one foot inbounds.
Davis capped Houston's opening drive of the third quarter with a 13-yard TD run through traffic. The Colts perked up later in the period and Edgerrin James made it 17-10 when he ran virtually untouched for a 6-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Edgerrin James breaks away from Kailee Wong for some of his 171 yards rushing. (AP)
|FG||Mike Vanderjagt 39 Yd, 10:51. Drive: 11 plays, 54 yards in 5:04.|
|TD||Domanick Davis, 11 Yd run (Kris Brown kick is good), 5:23. Drive: 8 plays, 68 yards in 5:28.|
|FG||Kris Brown 36 Yd, 1:49. Drive: 4 plays, 1 yards in 1:33.|
|TD||Domanick Davis, 13 Yd run (Kris Brown kick is good), 10:34. Drive: 8 plays, 63 yards in 4:26.|
|TD||Edgerrin James, 6 Yd run (Mike Vanderjagt kick is good), 14:57. Drive: 11 plays, 67 yards in 5:36.|
|TD||Brandon Stokley, 5 Yd pass from Peyton Manning (Mike Vanderjagt kick is good), 3:50. Drive: 1 play, 5 yards in 0:05.|
|FG||Mike Vanderjagt 43 Yd, 0:00. Drive: 12 plays, 65 yards in 2:40.|
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