It was a game they weren't supposed to win, in a season in which they weren't supposed to win many. As Adam Vinatieri's meaningless – unless the Colts wind up in some bizarre tie break situation - yet mandated extra point sailed through the uprights, the Colts completed their second improbable comeback of the 2012 season.
The defense performed well for a unit that gave up 33 points. Sure, they were dominated by Calvin Johnson, but who isn't? Outside of Johnson's 13 for 171 and a TD display of man-beast, the Colts held the Lions to 175 yards in the air, and 138 – 67 of which came on one 4th-quarter run – on the ground. For an offense that ranks near the top of every statistical category? That's not too bad.
And consider this: Andrew Luck and the Colts offense turned the ball over 3 times on Sunday. The Colts defense allowed those turnovers to lead to three points. And here's another one for you: The Lions started 6 drives at their own 40 or better, and only scored 10 points – total – on those drives.
The Colts defense was put in numerous bad situations against a dangerous, explosive offense, and held their own. When you consider all the factors: first year in a new scheme, lack of young 3-4 talent, and injuries to Nevis, Moala, Powers, Chapman, and Zbikowski, the Colts' defensive performance wasn't all that bad.
On offense, they struggled all day to find a rhythm. The offensive line was dominated by their Detroit counterparts – Joe Reitz and Winston Justice leaving with concussions surely didn't help - and the resulting pressure prevented Luck and the Colts offense from stringing together successful drives – through the first 57 minutes.
Sure, there were flashes of brilliance: Luck and Hilton hooking up for a pretty 60-yard catch-and-run, a beautiful, "waiting-to-exhale" TD throw-and-catch from Luck-to-Fleener, and a "big boy style" TD march down the field on their first series of the 3rd quarter, in which Vick Ballard ran for 38 of his 41 yards and his first rushing TD of the year.
But between those flashes the Colts mixed in heavy doses of frustration: sacks, QB hits, interceptions, 3-and-outs. Halfway through the 4th quarter, the Colts appeared well on their way to 7-5 on the back of another dismal road performance.
When the Colts took the field with 4:02 left in the game, Andrew Luck was 17/40, 279yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs, 2sacks, 0 rushing yards, and had just thrown his third interception of the game through 19 minutes and 42 seconds of possession. Over the next two drives, he would go 7/14 for 112 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 sacks, 3 rushes for 33 yards, and he drew a 15-yard horse collar tackle. All in the span of 2minutes and 30 seconds.
As is the case with their remarkable, somewhat magical 8-4 record, there is little logical explanation for the Colts' sudden, drastic in-game turnaround. When asked how the Colts were able to earn this victory, Luck offered only that it was a total team effort, that the Colts fought for 60-minutes, and that they never gave up.
On second thought, perhaps – cliched as it sounds – that is our answer.
It's often said by players, pundits, prognosticators (hat tip to Mr. Polian), journalists, and experts that teams take on the personality of their coach. We, as fans – and perhaps even the players, to some degree – have not yet been able to get to know Chuck Pagano, the coach. But through his bout with leukemia, we have learned quite a bit about Pagano, the man: he's a fighter, he's tough, he never gives up, he doesn't care about odds or circumstances, he has a goal, a vision, and he won't give up until he makes that vision a reality.
Remind you of any… football team?
By now you might be wondering to yourself, "self, why would Greg choose this title for this column?" Fair question. First, it's provocative, and I love page hits. Second, last Monday, Vince Verhei of FootballOutsiders.com wrote an "insider" article for ESPN.com in which he called the Colts playoff pretenders. I had decided that, win or lose, I would address the Verhei article in my Lions wrap-up column.
I was ready to discuss Verhei's cherry-picked stats, the lack of context for many of his criticisms, and the fact that many of the stats he used weren't, in fact, all that statistically significant to begin with. But as the Colts were dancing on the field, as my own screams and shakes had subsided, as I was able to take in what had just happened, I realized… it didn't matter.
What the Indianapolis Colts have done this year – bettering their 2011 win total by at least 6 games on the field, increasing leukemia awareness nationwide and maintaining the strong community values they showed in the previous era off the field, and kicking cancer's butt in the hospital – goes beyond stats. It goes beyond being "playoff pretenders" (someday someone will have to explain term to me, by the way, are the Bengals and Steelers real contenders? Are the Ravens? Are the Bears, Seahawks, on-and-off again Giants and 49ers? Let me know, Mr. Verhei). It even goes beyond their strength of schedule.
It goes to the strength of their character, of their will, of their team.
The Colts did more than just honor Chuck Pagano when they shaved their heads on November 6th, they also took on his appearance. After standing together, fighting as a team, and never quitting against the Lions, the Colts showed that they had taken on his personality, as well.
Are the Colts play-off worthy? They shouldn't be. But like their coach, they don't know how to quit.
And from reader Jordan, re-live the Colts late-game magic, Tecmo Bowl Style