Ladies and Gentleman, The Winners:
The Indianapolis Colts run onto the field after teammate Donnie Avery scored a touchdown in the closing seconds to defeat the Detroit Lions 35-33 in an NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
COLTS WIN COLTS WIN COLTS WIN COLTS WIN COLTS WIN 35-33
Yes, that really happened. Your eyes did not deceive you. Fourth down, four seconds left. Time and hope had been ticking away, then Andrew Luck flipped a short pass to Donnie Avery for the win. Lions players stared in disbelief. Colts players celebrated wildly. Bruce Arians got his headset tangled around his shoe. Fans at home jumped around in their living rooms.
Another fourth quarter comeback for the Colts and their lovable rookie, this time in a game some could argue should not have even been close. Yet, with the Lions seeming to win every phase of the game, Indy never gave up, no matter how horribly they played – and they had some stretches that would have made lesser men write this one off and start thinking about next week.
So how did this maddening game become a memorable one? How did we end up celebrating instead of talking about how this team needs a few more pieces to make the next step? Note: They do need a few more pieces to make that next step, but don’t tell them that. How did this team only convert one third down in the second half, yet win the half – and the game? I do not know if I can answer that last one.
Nevertheless, somehow, this team managed to fight and claw their way to 8-4. They would not be denied, even by their own mistakes.
In the first half, the Lions were 2-6 on third downs but, thanks to big plays all over the field, they held a 23-14 lead gained 256 yards, and held the ball for 19:56. Indianapolis was 3-8 on third downs, with two of those conversions coming on their second drive of the game.
Andrew Luck went 9/19 for 174 yards, with two interceptions to go along with his two touchdowns (he finished 24/54 for 391, 4/3), and the offense averaged two yards per carry running the ball (7/14). Couple that with the defense struggling miserably against Calvin Johnson (8 catches for 83 yards on 11 targets in the first half), and the Detroit tight ends, the first half could’ve been much worse if not for some penalties by the Lions and timely big plays from the Colts defense, and a few big gains from the offense.
In the second half, the Colts came out firing on all cylinders, streaking down the field for an authoritative 80-yard touchdown drive that started and ended with good runs Vick Ballard, who gained 38 and scored his long overdue first career rushing touchdown on an 11-yard rumble. Luck also hit Donnie Avery for a beautiful 42-yard strike on the drive. It looked as though the Colts had snapped out of their funk, closing the deficit to 21-23.
The defense, as they had all game, struggled to stop the Lions but still came up with a strategically important stop on the next drive. They pressured Stafford, who had too much time for most of the day, and Vontae Davis sniffed out a wide receiver screen, stopping the Lions’ receiver Thomas for a one-yard loss on third and eight. Punt. Opportunity: Colts Offense.
The offense, as they had done for most of the game, failed to capitalize, punting after a jittery three-and-out. The Lions came right back with a three and out of their own, once again setting up the Colts offense with an opportunity to seize the momentum, and the lead. Pressure, pressure, pressure, from the Lions once again led to a three and out.
The defense had bailed out a struggling offense twice in a row (with some help from miscues by Detroit), but the offense failed to take advantage. On Detroit’s next drive, they ran out of gas, and the Lions went up 30-21 on a 46-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson, who would finish with13 catches for 171 yards.
In the fourth quarter, the defense stepped up again, following up a three and out by Luck and the offense by forcing their own. As the team failed to capitalize on another seemingly improbable stop of the once hot Detroit offense, there developed a feeling that the Colts might not be able to overcome a two score lead in the fourth quarter. Detroit tacked on a field goal with 8:41 left to stretch their lead to 33-21.
After another interception by Andrew Luck, it seemed that all hope was slipping away. However, just as they would never believe anyone who says they’re not good enough to be where they are, Indianapolis Colts once again rose to the occasion. And, oh, it was it fun to watch.
After the Indy defense forced yet another punt from the Lions, the Colts’ rattling, sputtering offense took the field with 4:02 to play, trailing 33-21 and virtually unable to protect their gun slinging rookie in the pocket. Yet, ever confident and nearly unshakeable, Luck and the Colts offense suddenly came to life and went screaming down the field for an 8-play 77 yard touchdown drive that only took 1:23 off the clock. Rookie Receiver Lavon Brazill beat Drayton Florence deep for his first NFL touchdown, a 42 yarder from Luck, who was running for his life on the play. Brazill’s first TD could not have come at a better time.
When the exhausted defense once again trotted onto the field, the Lions had a chance to put the game away. However, somehow, even when things went terribly wrong, the Colts found a way to recover. On 2nd and 7, gigantic, unstoppable receiver Calvin Johnson ran open deep down field, but never saw the ball coming his way. Cassius Vaughn of the Colts however committed pass interference on the play, giving Detroit another first down.
The Colts didn’t sulk or point fingers. They just kept fighting, finally forcing a punt after some great tackling by Bethea, Redding, and Jerrell “Baby Ray” Freeman. Punt. Opportunity: Colts Offense…kind of.
You know the rest. It was beautiful, like the end of a movie about indomitable underdogs who never gave up. Here is the game-winning drive, courtesy of ESPN”
A scramble for 9 yards. Spike. Less than a minute left. Time, and hope are ticking away.
Then Luck hit Reggie Wayne for 26 yards. Spike.
Luck scrambled again, this time heading down the sideline for 16 yards.
After another 10-yard gain by Dwayne Allen, it looked like the magic had worn off. After two straight incompletions, a smart throw away and a bad throw to Wayne in double coverage, Detroit called a time out with eight seconds left. Luck tried to hit Avery in the end zone third down, but it went incomplete.
Four seconds left. Winning time, as they say in basketball. And few people rise up at winning time in football like this rookie kid out of Stanford. Luck, under pressure as he had been all day, scrambled to his right and flipped the ball to Donnie Avery. With Luck under pressure, Avery had run to his side, possibly by design, and followed his quarterback under duress. It was a smart veteran move that resulted in the game winning touchdown, as he sprinted into the end zone.
As the Colts jumped around in jubilation, the frustration of the rest of the game melted away. 35-33, COLTS. They played their best when it mattered most.
Despite being 8-4 and in the hunt for the playoffs, this team has some serious concerns (starting with the offensive line). But don’t tell them that. They refuse to give up. They stubbornly believe. And with Luck on their side, why shouldn’t they?
Update – "Really and update?" you ask. Yes. For anyone who feels they could just watch that game-winning touchdown over and over again, here is a GIF from Deadspin.com and Gawkerassets.com that will let you do just that: Colts Last Second Touchdown