INDIANAPOLIS – Chuck Pagano couldn’t believe his eyes. Andrew Luck couldn’t believe his ears. Indianapolis Colts fans couldn’t believe the scoreboard, and the Kansas City Chiefs couldn’t believe their incredibly bad luck.
It seemed unfathomable.
On a day Luck appeared to be pressing and, at times, as bad as he ever has played while putting Indianapolis in a 28-point hole, the Colts quarterback somehow turned things around. He threw three of his four touchdowns in the second half, scored on a fumble return and connected with a wide-open T.Y. Hilton on a 64-yard TD pass to give the Colts an improbable 45-44 wild-card victory Saturday.
“One for the ages,” said Pagano, Indianapolis’ coach. “I think somebody said that it was the second-largest comeback or whatever in the history of whatever. I guess 21 wasn’t large enough at half, so we thought we’ve give them another seven, you know, just to make it interesting.”
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Actually, rallying from 28 down made the latest of Luck’s amazing comebacks one to remember.
Indianapolis (12-5) became the second playoff team to rally from that big a deficit, according to STATS. Buffalo rallied from 32 points down to beat Houston 41-38 in January 1993, though that one required overtime.
The teams’ 1,049 combined total yards set an NFL postseason record; the Colts had 536 yards.
The teams’ 89 combined points rates third on the all-time playoff list.
Indianapolis travels to either Denver or New England next weekend for the divisional round.
Luck was an incredible mix of good and bad, finishing 29 of 45 for 443 yards, the second-highest yardage total in franchise history for a playoff game. He also matched his career high with three interceptions. Hilton set franchise playoff records with 13 catches and 224 yards, and also caught two TDs.
But it was the way the Colts won that made it stunning.
Luck played angry and frantic, turning a steady stream of halftime boos into a chorus of cheers.
“I don’t know if it ever crossed my mind on how it would be remembered,” Luck said after winning his first playoff game four seasons quicker than it took his predecessor, Peyton Manning. “When I took a knee, and you feel the buzz and the energy of the crowd and see your teammates’ faces, that makes it special.”
For Kansas City, it was another brief, miserable postseason appearance.
The Chiefs (11-6) finished their remarkable turnaround season — they were 2-14 last season — with three straight losses and an eighth consecutive postseason defeat — none more shocking than this one. The eight straight losses snapped a tie with the Detroit Lions for the longest playoff skid.
And they were beaten up, too. Starting running back Jamaal Charles left with a concussion on the opening possession. Knile Davis, Charles’ backup, left in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a left-knee injury. Receiver Donnie Avery and cornerback Brandon Flowers were knocked out with second-half concussions, and linebacker Justin Houston was out with a knee injury when Hilton caught the winning pass.
That put more pressure on Alex Smith, who was 30 of 46 for 378 yards with four TDs and no interceptions but lost a fumble that led to a touchdown for Indianapolis.
Smith tried to rally the Chiefs after Hilton’s final score and wound up throwing to Dwayne Bowe — who caught the ball but was out of bounds — on fourth-and-11 with 1:55 to play from the Indy 43.
Asked about his postgame speech to players, Kansas City coach Andy Reid said, “Sometimes the game speaks for itself, so you don’t have to say a whole lot.”