Mathis’s strip sack. T.Y. Hilton’s record-breaking day. The Dive (That is, of course, Luck's fumble recovery and Super Man dive into the end zone). As Colts punter Pat McAfee said on Twitter after the game, “Just like we drew it up.” This was a game to remember, but like so many memorable games, it didn’t start that way.
Indianapolis allowed scores on each of the Chiefs’ first five drives en route to a 31-10 halftime deficit (an NFL playoff record according to NBC’s TV analysts). The Chiefs marched right down the field on the opening drive to take a 7-0 lead on a short pass from Alex Smith to Dwayne Bowe.
Indy answered back right away, torching the Kansas City secondary on a 7-play, 74-yard no-huddle aerial assault that ended in a 10-yard touchdown to T.Y. Hilton. At that point, it looked as though the Colts offense would be doing whatever it wanted today.
The Chiefs, despite losing star running back Jamaal Charles for the game on the previous drive, weren’t about to slow down. They kicked a short field goal for a 10-7 lead after some great run stopping work by Kavell Conner and Cory Redding. Then after a quick three and out by the Indy offense, KC went up by 10 with a 79-yard pass to former Colt Donnie Avery.
On their very next offensive play, Colts backup running back Trent Richardson bobbled, regained control, then fumbled the ball. Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali recovered, and Kansas City added another touchdown – for a 24-7 lead – three plays later on a 5-yard shovel pass to running back Anthony Sherman.
The Colts offense came back to life briefly but had to settle for a seemingly inconsequential 37-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri and a 24-10 deficit. As it would turn out, however, every point mattered in this game.
The Chiefs offense kept rolling with a clock-eating 81-yard touchdown drive that took up 7:23 despite featuring ten plays out of the shotgun. Running back Knile Davis capped things off with a 5-yard run, and, at 31-10, things were beginning to look bleak for the home team.
But this is the Colts. A three-touchdown hole is nothing, right? Right? 2nd and 17 after a sack, no huddle, shotgun, three wide, Luck to Hilton…intercepted by Brandon Flowers.
Indianapolis got the ball back to start the half, and Luck was picked off again, this time on a pass intended for a well-covered Donald Brown. Three plays later, Alex Smith hit Davis for a 10-yard touchdown and a 38-10 deficit for the Colts.
Some fan bases might have begun streaming for the stadium exits, or switching their TV’s to some inane reality show about a pawn shop. But this is Indianapolis. These are the Colts. And this Wild Card game was about to get good.
Indy came back ready to trust Luck despite his previous mistakes, and he showed his 10-year-veteran-like focus and resilience. Luck to Hilton, 10 yards. Luck to Brown over the middle, 11 yards. Luck to Da’Rick Rogers down the left sideline…46 yards. With the crowd barely winding down from blowing the roof off after the Rogers catch, Luck stayed in the hurry up, and handed off to Donald Brown in the shotgun for a 10-yard touchdown. 38-17. (Yay, we’re within 21 again)
Kansas City made it back to midfield again before Robert Mathis (please, NFL, give this man Defensive Player of the Year), on a second effort after shaking two blocks, came in for an epic strip-sack of Smith, which was recovered – just barely in bounds – by Kelvin Sheppard. Thanks to the younger, cooler crowd, the word “epic” is a bit overused and watered down these days. Make no mistake, this moment, as sports moments go, was actually epic.
Shotgun, “Green 80, Ricky, Ricky,” snap (Luck’s cadence is fantastic). The Colts’ no huddle barrage continued. 5 plays, 41 yards. Luck found Donald Brown again (open this time) for a 3-yard TD. 38-24. The hopeless blowout had become a monster comeback.
After the Colts defense forced a three and out with some solid (if not a bit hands-y) one-on-one coverage on Bowe by backup CB Josh Gordy, Luck found himself throwing another interception, this one barely off the hands of Hilton and right into those of Husain Abdullah.
This time, the defense held, and the Chiefs had to settle for a three and out and a 42-yard field goal. 41-24 suddenly looked more like a blowout score again, but it isn’t over until the coaches shake hands at midfield.
Luck hit the red-hot Donald Brown for 25 yards and Brazill for 30 before eventually finding Coby Fleener over the middle for another touchdown from 12 yards out.
At 41-31 heading into the fourth quarter, the Colts defense faced a pivotal drive. Force a turnover or a punt, and the offense takes over down by 10. Give up a score, and it’s a 17-point disaster. The defense held, thanks in part to some pressure that affected Smith’s accuracy.
Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt pinned Indianapolis at their own 10. With 90 yards to go, Brown ran up the middle for no gain, and then a second down pass glanced off Brazill’s fingertips, setting up 3rd and 10 at the 10-yard line.
Many times this season, the Colts have called a play in this situation that essentially ran up the white flag: a draw or screen, or a plain old run up the middle. These plays send a message to the offense that says “We don’t trust you. We’re afraid of what might happen if we ask you to go out there and win the game for us.” Not this time. Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton had already gone for it on fourth down once today. They were feeling lucky (Luck-y). Luck paid them back for their faith in him once again with a 16-yard completion to – guess who – Hilton.
The pass to Hilton jumpstarted a 90-yard drive capped by…a Donald Brown fumble (?!) Brown had just one other fumble for his entire career, which was recovered by the offense. This one bounced off center Samson Satele before Luck picked it up and leapt, extending his arm and the ball, into the end zone. The Dive. 41-38.
Kansas City woke up and started moving the ball again, but again settled for a Ryan Succop field goal and a very shaky 44-38 lead with 5:02 left.
With Colts fans everywhere on the edges of their seats, jumping around their living rooms, or bars (or the stadium), it was clear this team couldn’t let it end in a loss after such a made-for-Hollywood comeback (could they?).
Down six, the Colts faced 3rd and 5 at their own 25, Kansas City just a stop away from their first playoff win in something like 900 years (or 20, for you sticklers). Luck backed up in the shotgun and found Coby Fleener, who out-jumped Chiefs defender Eric Berry and reeled in an 11-yard pass to keep the Indy's hopes alive. Luck then turned to T.Y. Hilton, who started out on the outside, and streaked over the middle for a 64-yard touchdown. Hilton blew past three sprinting defenders on the play as though they were standing still. He tied Reggie Wayne’s franchise record for most receiving yards in a playoff game (224) and broke Ray Berry’s 1958 record (12) for most receptions in a Colts playoff game with his 13th catch. More importantly, it was 45-44, Colts. One stop from advancing to the Divisional round.
Kansas City got the ball back with way too much time left on the clock (4:21), but the defense, needing one more stop, locked onto the KC receivers, and harassed Smith into an intentional grounding on 2nd and 7, setting up a 3rd and 17.
On their last gasp, 4th and 11 attempt, Josh Gordy drew Bowe in single coverage again, and forced him out of bounds before he could get a second foot down. Incomplete pass. Celebration on the sidelines. The Victory Formation. The sweet feeling of victory, in the playoffs.
So many players on IR, so many of whom seemed to be too much for this team to overcome, so many times where you had to wonder if this group was ready for the playoffs. Then they go down 28 points in the third quarter only to embark on one of the most wild and memorable comebacks in Indianapolis Colts history – and that’s saying something.
45-44. Go ahead and celebrate. And remember that score. We’ll be talking about it for a while.
A few quick notes:
– This team grew up today. We saw some players show what they’re made of in moments that cannot be defined by any measurable. There were some potential career-defining moments in this game.
– T.Y. Hilton is the (little) MAN. Great work today, Eugene, sir.
– How do you throw three picks and still have a 98.7 QB rating? Try going 29/45 for 445 yards and 4 touchdowns. Luck also ran 7 times for 45 yards and had a touchdown on the ground that was technically a fumble recovery.
– At one point, Luck rolled out to avoid a sack, juked a defender to avoid another, then hit LaVon Brazill down the sideline for a big time play. It was a thing of weird, chaotic beauty.
– Thanks to three interceptions, a fumble, and a slew of touchdowns, the Colts only punted one time today.
– Trent Richardson came back in after his game-altering fumble and appeared to miss a blocking assignment. After that, someone must have zip tied him to the bench. Better luck next…year? Better luck, sometime, Trent.
– Donald Brown had 10 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown and caught 4 passes for 47 yards and another score.
– Brazill had a brilliant day with 4 catches on 6 targets for 54 yards, Fleener was impressive with his 5 on 7 targets for 46 yards and a score.
– Indy’s offensive line looked very good for most of the day, giving Luck time to look for more deep passes. They even opened up some nice running lanes. Solid effort today.
– Forget about “forcing their will.” Forget about running to set up the pass. Forget about when they said they won’t win with Luck throwing 40 passes in a game. This team – and the NFL – are built for just that. Today, Pep set Luck free. He threw 45 passes and averaged 9.8 yards per attempt (7 is a similar benchmark to 4.5 yards per carry).