NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - INSIDE SLANT
Towel around his waist, quarterback Andrew Luck left the shower and made a beeline for the locker of Robert Mathis. Franchise cornerstones slapped hands and exchanged thoughts of relief and joy.
Mathis, an 11th-year defensive end, has been a part of some classic Indianapolis Colts playoff comebacks. For Luck, a second-year quarterback, this was his first.
Talk about an initiation.
Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns, the last a 64-yarder to T.Y. Hilton with 4:29 to play Saturday, leading the Colts to a stunning 45-44 come-from-behind victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC wild-card shootout.
"A thrill-ah!" Colts cornerback Vontae Davis shouted to no one in particular.
After falling behind 38-10 early in the third quarter, Indianapolis pulled off the second-largest rally in NFL playoff history by forgetting everything that had gone wrong in the first 32 minutes -- which was nearly everything.
"Just go out and play and flush it," Luck said. "Guys didn't panic. To watch Mathis, to play with Hilton, it's a fun team. To see your teammates' faces makes it special."
That unity and resolve allowed the Colts to score five touchdowns sandwiched around two Kansas City field goals in the final 26:52, just enough to fight another day. Indianapolis will travel to Denver or New England for next week's divisional round.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, are left to wonder how they squandered a game that was all but theirs.
"It's tough," said quarterback Alex Smith, who passed for a franchise playoff-record four touchdowns and 378 yards. "When you get these opportunities, you don't know when the next one's going to be, if at all."
The heartbreaking loss extended Kansas City's 19-year drought. The Chiefs haven't won a playoff game since Jan. 16, 1994, when they beat Houston 28-20 to advance to the AFC title game. The franchise's eight consecutive playoff defeats are an NFL record.
Hilton, a second-year receiver, set franchise postseason records with 13 catches for 224 yards and also scored on Indy's opening drive in addition to his late heroics. Luck, taken first in the 2012 draft, overcame three interceptions for his first playoff victory and also authored the signature play to date of his blossoming career.
From a four-wide set, Luck got solid protection and zipped a perfect long ball to Hilton, who ran wide open behind safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps. The speedy Hilton caught the pass in stride and sealed a win for the archives.
"One for the ages," Indy coach Chuck Pagano said. "It looked bleak. You can't measure what's inside a man. These guys have more heart and grit than anybody I've ever been around."
It took one final stop from a defense that had allowed five touchdowns and a field goal on the Chiefs' first six possessions.
On fourth-and-11 from the Colts' 43-yard line with two minutes left, Smith threw incomplete down the sideline and Indianapolis kneeled three times to end a three-game playoff losing streak.
"We rose to the occasion when it really mattered," said Davis, whose Mathis-led defense got four stops on its final six series. "We got the ball back in Luck's hands. You always have a chance."
Conversely, the Chiefs' opportunistic defense, which led the AFC in takeaways (36) and turnover margin (plus-18), cratered badly despite forcing four turnovers.
"Outplayed," linebacker Tamba Hali said. "It's hard. We're a good team. We play our hearts out, get leads like that. We lost our edge."
Chiefs All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles carried just three times before sustaining a concussion early in the game.
Fortunate breaks elsewhere spurred Indy's comeback from 28 down.
Running back Donald Brown's fumble at the Chiefs 2 caromed off center Samson Satele, then bounced once off the turf and straight into the arms of Luck, who lunged 5 yards into the end zone to bring Indy within 41-38 with 10:45 remaining.
"It's exactly how we drew it up," Brown joked. "Great play. We made it work like we practiced."
Brown rushed 11 times for 55 yards and caught four passes for 47 yards. His back-to-back third-quarter touchdowns began the turnaround, drawing the Colts within 38-24 midway through the period.
"Never say die," Brown said.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - NOTES, QUOTES
--Only the Buffalo Bills' 32-point comeback victory over the Houston Oilers tops what the Colts did to Kansas City in postseason lore. Almost 21 years ago to the day, Buffalo stunned Houston in overtime. But the Colts did something the Bills didn't. They allowed 40-plus points and committed four turnovers. In fact, no NFL team had ever won a game when producing statistics that negative.
"We did everything that you could possibly do on the wrong end of it," Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. "Somebody said it was the second-largest comeback in history. Whatever. We've been there many, many times before. I don't know if we won the statistical battles, but really the only one that counts and matters is the score."
The 44 points the Colts' defense allowed surpassed the 42 points they gave up to Pittsburgh on Dec. 29, 1996.
--Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith were selected No. 1 overall in their respective drafts. But while Smith has been in the league since 1995 and is still stuck on one playoff victory, Luck has matched that total in just two seasons. Their duel marked the fifth time in NFL history that two former No. 1 overall picks met in a playoff game. Smith also lost to the New York Giants' Eli Manning in the 2011 NFC Championship Game.
"We knew the quarterback was more than capable," Pagano said of Smith.
--The Colts and Chiefs combined for 1,049 total yards, which set an NFL playoff record, topping the old mark of 1,038. Their 89 points fell seven shy of the record set by the Packers and Cardinals in 2009. Indianapolis' 536 total yards are the ninth most in NFL postseason history. The Colts' 436 net yards passing was the second-highest total in playoff franchise history, a history that includes plenty of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
All the statistical odds and ends added to the charm for Indianapolis players.
"We used to watch NFL Films when we were kids and say, 'That could be us,'" tight end Coby Fleener said.
--K Adam Vinatieri's 37-yard field goal in the second quarter was his 49th in the postseason, an NFL record.
--Indianapolis lost starting DBs Greg Toler and LaRon Landry to injury and was playing without LG Donald Thomas, WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dwayne Allen and LB Pat Angerer.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DT Christian Tupou was signed to the practice squad Friday.
Tupou, 6-2, 290 pounds, was originally signed by the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent on May 13, 2013. He played in five games this season and recorded two tackles. At USC, Tupou totaled 53 career tackles, seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 42 games (33 starts). As a senior in 2011, he earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention accolades after starting all 12 games and racking up 16 tackles.
--DE Aaron Morgan was signed to a Reserve/Future contract.
Morgan (6-4, 250) has played in 18 career games, making six tackles (five solo) and four specials teams stops. He was originally signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent on April 24, 2010.
A four-year letterman at Louisiana-Monroe (2006-09), Morgan finished his career with 138 tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss, 22.0 sacks, one interception and eight passes defensed. His sack total set a school record and ranked as the second-most in Sun Belt Conference history.