First Down/Fourth Down: Andrew Luck orchestrates Colts' massive comeback
Andrew Luck has been in the NFL for just two seasons, but we know that he can orchestrate a comeback. What we did not know, at least before Saturday's incredible start to the NFL postseason, was if he could work his magic in the playoffs.
But we have the answer now.
Luck shook off three interceptions -- two of the brutal variety and entirely his fault -- to rally his Colts from 38-10 down to a 45-44 win, marking the second largest come-from-behind win in NFL playoff history. The play that pushed Indianapolis over the top: a 64-yard strike from Luck over two Chiefs defenders into the arms of a streaking T.Y. Hilton for a touchdown.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Luck had trimmed the Kansas City lead to three by pouncing on a Donald Brown fumble and diving across the goal line. If there was a moment that finally highlighted that this game might be for the taking by the Colts, that was it, but Indianapolis needed almost everything to bounce its way over the final two quarters or so.
That the Colts completed the comeback will long live as part of Luck's legacy. The defense deserves a little love, too, even after allowing 44 points.
Just six of those Chiefs' points came in the final 28:44, after a Knile Davis touchdown made it 38-10. Indianapolis also managed to force a momentum-swinging fumble by Alex Smith and held the Chiefs to three points after Luck's final interception.
More of the highs and lows from a remarkable postseason opener:
• First Down: T.Y. Hilton.
He may not be the household name that fellow wide receivers such as A.J. Green or Calvin Johnson are, but the Colts would have been doomed without him this season. Hilton made the leap from emerging talent to star in this one, capped by his late touchdown grab.
All told, Hilton finished with 13 receptions (on 18 targets) for 224 yards and two touchdowns. His development became even more critical when the Colts lost Reggie Wayne for the season, and Hilton has not slowed down one iota with the extra responsibility heaped on his plate.
• Fourth Down: Kansas City's injury luck.
The Chiefs rested their starters in Week 17 so they could enter the playoffs as healthy as possible. That strategy worked well ... until Saturday's game started.
Along the way to their devastating defeat, the Chiefs lost starting running back Jamaal Charles, backup RB Knile Davis, WR Donnie Avery (who scored the Chiefs' second touchdown) and top corner Brandon Flowers. Though Kansas City initially overcame a couple setbacks to race out to a 28-point lead, the dwindling number of available bodies no doubt played a role in the team's late collapse.
• First Down: Alex Smith.
I know, I know: he didn't get it done in the end. That means Smith's critics will be out in full volume, especially after watching Luck play the hero.
Smith's line, though: 30-for-46 for 378 yards and four touchdowns. The one play he would like to have back was his costly fumble -- a miscue caused by Smith trying to do too much. Indianapolis closed a gap that once seemed insurmountable to 14 on the ensuing possession.
Still, if a quarterback puts up 44 points on the road in a playoff game, that ought to be a win. Smith was brilliant throughout the first two-plus quarters, spreading the ball around and firing several deep shots on a depleted Indianapolis secondary. Don't let the offense's late slump take away from what Smith did before that.
• Fourth Down: Ryan Succop's range.
Justin Tucker reset the bar for kickers a few weeks back by nailing a 61-yard field goal to beat Detroit. Succop, the Chiefs' kicker, probably does not have that range.
Of course, this might have been the time to find out. Up 31-10 in the dying embers of the first half, the Chiefs opted to try a Hail Mary from the Colts' 41 rather than a 58- or 59-yard field goal. They then doubled down on their decision at the end of the game, going for it on 4th-and-11 from Indianapolis' 43 when a field goal would have won the game.
• First Down: Robert Mathis.
The Chiefs did a nice job limiting Mathis, especially early on in racing out to that huge edge on the scoreboard. Mathis, however, did not lead the league in sacks during the regular season for nothing.
His one sack Saturday was a game-changer -- it forced the aforementioned Smith fumble and led to the Colts really having a chance to claw back. Better yet for the home team, it awoke a crowd that had been stunned into submission by Kansas City's early onslaught.
• Fourth Down: Defense.
Already praised Luck and Smith above, so don't take this as discounting what either offense did here. But man ... where was the D? Eighty-nine points scored and 1,049 total yards?
Those numbers ought to be really painful for the Chiefs, who lived off their aggressive, turnover-forcing defense all season. They still managed to come up with those turnovers Saturday -- four in all. It wasn't enough. Neither secondary flashed any substantial answers to the opposition's passing attack.
The result was a thrilling game chock full of big plays. There just was not much to celebrate on the defensive side.