Coming out of halftime down 21, it was an understatement to say that it was a huge drive for the Colts offense, who would get the ball to start the second half. They took over at the 20 yard line after a touchback, and quarterback Andrew Luck lined up in the shotgun. Many fans and media felt like this would be the last chance the Colts had to get back in the ball game. Luck took the snap and dropped back to throw. Donald Brown ran a short out route in the right flat, but he was picked up by a linebacker. Luck threw the pass anyway. Intercepted. It was a bad decision and a worse throw, and just 3 plays and 18 yards later the Chiefs capitalized on the turnover to take a 28 point lead, up 38-10. It was the second straight interception for Luck (whose last attempt of the first half was also a pick), both of which were forced passes from a quarterback beginning to press after facing constant pressure. "I felt for a moment like I was trying to lose the game for us," Luck said after the game. At that point in the game, facing a 28-point deficit in the 3rd quarter in the playoffs with a defense that couldn't stop anything, the Colts win probability was just 0.9%, per ESPN.
But that makes what followed even better. Just like in the 2007 AFC Championship game when Peyton Manning threw a crushing pick-six, this interception made the comeback even better. And what a comeback it was.
The offensive line couldn't protect Luck. The receivers dropped some passes. Trent Richardson lost a fumble. The defense couldn't get any pressure on Alex Smith. The secondary was burned enough that it could have provided enough warmth for the entire city of Indianapolis in these freezing cold temperatures with the dumpster fire that resulted. And yet at a time when most people began to either think forward to the next matchup or reflect on the season the Colts had, it would have been easy to just give up. In fact, most teams would have just given up. But not the Colts - no, they had Luck, and he wasn't going to let them.
After the game, owner Jim Irsay marveled at Luck's performance, saying that, "he is the stuff of legend and fairy tale. He is doing things I thought I'd never see from a guy this young." Irsay said this past offseason that they weren't building this team around "Star Wars numbers," but on Sunday it was clear that the force is strong with his franchise quarterback.
After the interception to start the second half, Luck completed 17 of 23 passes (73.91%) for 314 yards (13.65 yards per attempt), 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, rushed 2 times for 17 yards, and returned a fumble 5 yards for a touchdown. He led the Colts on scoring drives of 80, 41, 80, 90, and 80 yards, and he did it all in a very quick fashion - with the longest drive taking 4:02 to go 90 yards for a touchdown. That kind of production is insane.
As Colts fans, we've seen crazy comebacks before. Robert Mathis was asked after the game if he'd ever been a part of something like that win, and he responded, "Umm, well. Yeah, actually." Peyton Manning pulled some incredible comebacks, and Andrew Luck has done the same early on in his career. It's easy for Colts fans to take a playoff berth or these comebacks for granted. But if you think this is normal - if you think any of this (making the playoffs every year; pulling off several insane comebacks) is normal - then I sincerely feel bad for you. You're missing something great. Something remarkable. something beautiful. Something rare.
You'll read numerous articles about Andrew Luck, and deservedly so. Several people will write that Luck is well on his way to greatness. That may be true, but make no mistake about it - that game on Saturday was greatness. It's not coming sometime in the future, it's here now.
Luck represented one of the most important traits for a quarterback to have: amnesia. He didn't dwell on his mistakes - he threw three interceptions in the game - but instead he shook them off, moved on, and put his team on his back. "That's him, that's how he's wired, that's in his DNA. We talk about 'it' -- he's got 'it,'" head coach Chuck Pagano said.
"There's been some great ones, but [Luck is] gonna go down as probably one of the best, if not the best, ever to play this game when everything is all said and done. We're very, very fortunate to have No. 12 on our side," Pagano said after the game. And, as NFL.com's Albert Breer noted, "Pagano's words didn't even seem the slightest bit over the top."
You can talk about the defensive failures. You can talk about the coaching staff, whatever your opinion may be. You can talk about the offensive line, or the Chiefs collapse. You could talk about the DOMINATING performance of wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who put together what is very possibly the greatest single-game postseason receiving performance in NFL history, catching 13 passes for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns. You can't praise Hilton enough for the game that he played. But if your analysis of this game starts anywhere other than Luck - if it starts anywhere other than the Colts' superstar franchise quarterback who put his team on his shoulders and carried them to a 28-point comeback for his first career postseason win - then your analysis is flawed.
Last year in the postseason, Luck's Colts team looked overmatched against the Baltimore Ravens and Luck had to do it all himself. He played well, but the Colts lost 24-9. This year in the postseason, Luck's Colts team looked overmatched against the Kansas City Chiefs, and Luck had to do it all himself - but this time, the Colts won 45-44. Last year, Luck was good for a rookie playing in his first career postseason game. This year, Luck was good for any quarterback no matter the circumstances.
The 28-point comeback? The second largest in NFL history, only beaten out by one game ever. Luck's 443 passing yards? The fifth-most passing yards in a single-postseason game ever. Luck's 488 total yards? The second-most in a single-postseason game ever.
Luck's numbers? Star Wars numbers. The Colts comeback? Out of this world. We've seen comebacks from Luck before - this was the 11th game winning drive and 8th fourth quarter comeback in Luck's short two year career so far, and no one in the league has more in that time span. But even still - 28 points in less than a half in a playoff game where his defense couldn't make a single stop?
General manager Ryan Grigson was understandably ecstatic after the game yesterday, and he said of Luck: "He's always been a different animal in the fourth quarter, his whole life. And just even hearing the story from his uncle (and agent) Will (Wilson). He relishes those moments. It's like (Michael) Jordan when he'd take that last shot -- he wants the ball. This guy, we're so blessed, he wants the ball in those situations. Other guys don't want the ball; they want to hand it off. They don't really want it -- they're gonna be half-stepping it."
He wasn't comparing the greatest player in any sport ever to a second year quarterback in the NFL in terms of legacy. No, he was talking about the similarity between those two players at the end of the game - they both want the ball and they both have a killer instinct to finish it out. And honestly, he's not wrong on that comparison.
The legacy of Andrew Luck continues to grow, but make no mistake - his greatness is already here. The Colts were down, but with Luck they were never out. With number twelve, they never are. It'll be hard to follow up this performance, which came in Luck's first career postseason win. Beating Tom Brady on the road would be a nice way to follow it up, though. And with Luck, the Colts absolutely have a chance. We learned Saturday to never count Luck out. And we learned Saturday that, with Luck, the Colts truly aren't out of any game in the first place. He made mistakes on Saturday, but he displayed the heart and the resiliency to shake them off, never lose hope, and lead his team to an incredibly improbable 45-44 victory over the Chiefs in the wild card round of the playoffs.
At church on Sunday morning, I had numerous people bring up the game to me, and I quickly found out that I didn't have the words to describe just how amazing and how thrilled I was. I found myself using the words "crazy" and "incredible" and "insane" over and over and over, and I realized that those words didn't do it justice at all. Thinking back over it, I still don't really know how to fully describe it. But I think I have a word that is the most accurate to describe the Colts performance: "heart." And, as Ryan Grigson said of Andrew Luck, "they don't measure it at the (NFL Combine), and he's got the biggest one in this league."