In the AFC Championship game on Sunday afternoon, the Denver Broncos' number one-ranked defense was the star of the show. Tom Brady was hit 20 times and sacked four times during a miserable afternoon for the future Hall of Famer. It was the defense that was in total control on the big stage, and it was against that same defense that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was in complete control on a Sunday afternoon in November.
Luck was hit often during that matchup, but he endured them and completed 21 of 36 passes for 252 yards and two scores without a turnover while also rushing for 34 yards on six carries. He led the Colts to a 27-24 victory over the Broncos that day, ending Denver's undefeated season and putting up an impressive performance against the league's best defense. As Mile High Report wrote of the game, "If your QB can run like a fullback, throw accurate darts and survive a multitude of wicked (and perfectly legal) hits, then you can put up
30 27 points on our defense. Thankfully there aren't many QB's in the NFL who can do what Andrew Luck can do when he is healthy."
It was hard to watch that defensive performance on Sunday and not wonder, "what if?" It was during that win over the Broncos that Luck lacerated his kidney and tore an abdominal muscle, ending his season. Right when the Colts seemed to be getting things figured out, the most important piece was injured. Owner Jim Irsay reflected those feelings of "what if?" in his post-season press conference, saying, "We'll never know what could have been after Denver, but we sure want to find out about the future because I think great things are in store."
The week before the win over the Broncos, the Colts traveled to face the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football. So, it turns out, the Colts faced the two Super Bowl teams in a span of seven days. They beat one and lost to the other by three points in overtime. Against the Panthers, the Colts fell behind 23-6 in the fourth quarter before Luck caught fire in the second half of the final period. Scoring 17 points in the final 7:04 of regulation, the Colts tied the game up and sent it to overtime. In the extra period, they actually took the lead on an Adam Vinatieri field goal before the Panthers matched it and then took advantage of a Luck interception to win. But for as ugly as the first three-plus quarters were, the fourth quarter showed a Colts team - led by their quarterback - fighting back and nearly knocking off the unbeaten Panthers.
You'll hear about that quite a bit over the next two weeks. About how the Colts beat the Broncos, the AFC champion, and nearly beat the Panthers, the NFC champion. Both statements are accurate, and it shows that with Andrew Luck the Colts stand a shot at beating anyone. As Jim Irsay said, we never got a chance to see what happened after Luck finally got it going against the Broncos. But don't let anyone tell you that the Colts weren't that far away in 2015, as it was a rough year all around. Sure, they beat the Broncos and took the Panthers to overtime, but they also gave up 51 points to the Jaguars. They lost by 35 points to the Steelers. They couldn't manage enough points to beat the Texans in the biggest game of the season (all they needed was 17). The problem for the Colts, as it has been for several years now, was consistency. A large part of that was due to Luck's injury, but even before that the Colts were anything but consistent. The Broncos game showed clearly that the Colts can beat any team on any given Sunday. Several other games, however, showed the Colts can also lay an egg on any given Sunday.