Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck celebrates as he leaves the field following an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012. The Colts won 23-20. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Few outside the locker rooms of the Colts and Dolphins expected this to be a game between potential playoff contenders. At 4-3, each team coming off short win streaks, it was just that. The Colts managed a respectable 97 rushing yards and 3.7 yards per carry against a very stout Miami run defense with all but 22 of those yards coming in the second half. But the run game, while important, was hardly the whole story of this game.
Whole Lotta Luck: Andrew Luck was incredible. For much of the season, he has been a player some would describe as plucky, always getting back up and defying the odds. He played like a promising rookie, and showed flashes (more so than most rookies) of a bright future to come. Today, however, he looked unstoppable, helping the offense roll up 516 yards and 13 of 19 third down conversions. Luck's stat line: 30/48. 433 yards. 2 touchdowns, no interceptions. 105.6 quarterback rating. 9 yards per completion. That wasn't just a single game rookie record. Those were the statistics of a seasoned veteran, an All-Pro performance from a rookie quarterback.
The defense once again struggled, giving up 365 yards, but again, they came up huge when the game was on the line. The receivers had some drops. The offensive line gave up plenty of pressure and a sack. However, at all the most important junctures in the game – what basketball fans call “winning time” – the team played like super stars.
The first half ended 17-13 in favor of the Dolphins, but with both offenses moving at a blistering pace; 210 yards for Miami and 295 for Indianapolis. Andrew Luck’s excellent half of football, 19/28 for 273 yds, 1/0, and a 111.2 quarterback rating (despite just 11 carries for 22 yards in the running game) was overshadowed by penalties. The Colts never punted in the first half, but they racked up seven penalties for 55 yards, including a late hit by Cassius Vaughn after Reggie Bush’s 18-yard touchdown scamper.
Both defenses came to life to start the 3rd quarter, with the Colts forcing a punt by containing the Dolphins’ run game and some decent coverage on a five play, 15-yard drive. Indianapolis came back out appearing to fire on all cylinders on their first 3rd quarter drive, but they were thwarted by a big sack and fumble recovered by Dwayne Allen for a 14 yard loss. The sack took them out of field goal range, and Luck’s deep pass into double coverage on 3rd and 25 fell incomplete.
The Colts managed to hold up for another strong defensive series, holding Miami to 13 yards and a punt (a 60-yard punt by B. Fields). Then Luck and the offense went back to work. Surprisingly, some balance emerged in the second half, as Ballard and Carter combined for a hard-earned 22 yards on the drive.
However, the story of this drive was Andrew Luck’s 36-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton. Make no mistake. This was a bad play, a broken play. Luck was under heavy pressure, about to be sacked from his blind side by two players and used his still-surprising athleticism to avoid the pressure. Conventional wisdom here is to throw it short or throw the ball away. Luck instead chose to throw it around 40 yards through the air to a 5’9” double covered receiver. Hilton, who simply wasn’t open, managed to out-jump both defensive backs for a spectacular touchdown catch, and the Colts took their second lead of the game at 20-17.
Miami came back and tied it up at 20 with a field goal after a very promising drive stalled on an incomplete pass on third down. The Dolphins had managed to drive all the way to the Colts’ 13-yard line before Jerry Hughes and the rejuvenated Dwight Freeney managed to get heavy pressure on Tannehill right from the snap.
The Colts continued to tiptoe along the fine line at the brink of disaster. Three times on their ensuing 4th quarter drive, Andrew Luck managed to do the nearly impossible. Buried at their own 5-yard line, on 3rd and 11, Luck completed a short pass that became a 20 yard 1st down to Dwayne Allen. Later on the same drive, Luck upped the ante by completing a 6-yard pass for the first down as he was being sacked and a 2-yarder to Allen as he was once again going down. The good news is Andrew Luck can do the nearly impossible. The bad news is he is being asked to do so time and time again. Nevertheless, the Colts took a 3 point lead, 23-20 on Adam Vinatieri’s 43 yard field goal, that, in keeping with the theme, just barely went through the cross bars.
Then, with great coverage from guys with names like Darius Butler and Josh Gordy (that’s right), the defense stood strong one again. However, with just over two minutes left, things looked like they were falling apart. On 3rd down, Luck threw a bad pass near the Indianapolis 30-yard line, but the interception was just barely dropped.
Miami followed it up by charging down the field before two straight incompletions from Tannehill and a false start set up a 3rd and 15. Gordy came up big again with some tight coverage on the receiver who was overthrown.
4th and 15. Miami was out of field goal range. The only choice was to go for it. But with some great pressure by a relentless Dwight Freeney (despite a holding penalty on Miami OT Jake Long), Tannehill’s impressive, across-his-body pass to Daniel Thomas came up just short of the first down. Fokou and Redding combined for the stop.
All that was needed for the win was a first down. After a couple decent runs by Ballard, came the greatest run on third down I’ve seen since a certain Super Bowl win. Ballard, pushed on by the offensive line, and a leaping Reggie Wayne, sliced through the defense and pushed the pile for a 19-yard exclamation point on a hard-fought victory. 23-20
In summation, well, get used to seeing that post game fist pump from Andrew Luck.