By Bob Kravitz
January 5, 2014
Andrew Luck dives over the goal line after recovering a teammate's fumble, for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs during an AFC Wild Card Game on Jan. 4. Photo: MCT/Landov
This is how Andrew Luck starts his legend. Years from now, you'll always know where you were, how you were feeling the moment Luck put the Indianapolis Colts on his broad shoulders and led them back from a 38-10 deficit and willed the Colts to a 45-44 wild card victory over the star-crossed Kansas City Chiefs.
John Elway had The Drive.
Luck has The Comeback.
And to think, it was just his first-ever post-season win. What's a guy do for an encore?
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This is the foundation upon which legends are formed. This is why Luck has every chance to some day be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play this game. Not simply because of his arm or his legs, but because of his force of will.
"He kept telling us, even at 38-10, 'We're going to win this game','' Anthony Castonzo said.
Gosder Cherilus wore a beautific smile, still flying high after the second-greatest comeback in NFL playoff history.
"Andrew kept saying, 'Stay with me, stay with me,' " Cherilus said. "He willed us to this win.''
This team was dead after Luck threw his third interception to open the third quarter. It was dead, the last rites administered, buried under an avalanche of turnovers and defensive missteps.
They'd come back before these last two seasons, but by 28 points with fewer than two quarters remaining? At that point, the laws of probability suggested the Colts had a 4 percent chance of overcoming a 28-point deficit with less than two quarters remaining. Four percent.
And then they did.
Somehow, some way, they did.
Thanks, in large part, to Luck.
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"This is what I say about Andrew: There's a little piece of all of us in that kid,'' offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus said. "When he makes a tackle, he's got Robert Mathis in him. When he's recovering a fumble and diving into the end zone, he's Donald Brown. There's a little piece of all of us in him. We believe in this guy, and he believes in us. He's going to be a very special player for us for a long time. He already is.''
For two quarters and chance, Luck was awful and had fans muttering about another one-and-done, a throwback to so many Manning playoff efforts. After an opening-drive touchdown, Luck fell to pieces, started throwing picks, started falling prey to Kansas City's pass rush pressure.
"I felt for a moment like I was trying to lose the game for us,'' Luck said. Combine that with a porous Colts defense that couldn't force a single Kansas City punt until the third quarter, and you had a repeat of the Arizona and St. Louis games.
That's when Luck did what all the great quarterbacks do. He developed instant amnesia. Bad play? No matter. Move on to the next one.
"He (Luck) pressed the 'clear' button,'' backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. "He was out there, he was just ballin'.''
There were a lot of other heroes for the Colts this memorable Saturday. There was Mathis, whose strip-sack changed the course of the game. There was T.Y. Hilton, who had one of the greatest playoff performances in the history of the game. There was Cory Redding, making a long-forgotten but hugely important stop on a goal-line stand.
Mostly, though, this was about Luck, who is going to surpass the great Peyton Manning as a post-season performer. He finds form in anarchy, creates magic from madness. With his legs, with his arm, with his mind.
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We're gonna win this game.
Stay with me, stay with me.
At 38-10, the hole was too deep. Wasn't it? Who comes back from 28 down, except Frank Reich and the 1993 Buffalo Bills, who came back from a 32-point deficit against the Houston Oilers?
Then came the Donald Brown touchdown run to cap a quicksilver drive – 38-17. Looked cosmetic, but it was something.
Then came the Mathis strip-sack, the defensive play of the game (on a day when there weren't many of those), leading to another swift TD pass to Brown – 38-24.
Then, after a Kansas City field goal, another touchdown pass, this one to Coby Fleener – 41-31.
Then came a bit of luck, or Luck, if you will. Brown was heading toward the end zone for another score after yet another Luck/Hilton-led drive when he fumbled the ball. But it bounced off Samson Satele's helmet and was picked up by Luck, who quickly and instinctively dove over the top for the end zone.
"I sort of set him (Brown) up for failure,'' Luck said. "It was a loaded box and I called a run. I was hoping Donald would make one of his amazing plays like he'd done all game, but it didn't happen, I saw the ball and reverted back to playground football – just pick it up and try to score.''
Hasselbeck laughed. "We don't have any Walter Payton drills in our practices,'' he said.
Chiefs lead was down to three, 41-38.
Then, after another Kansas City field goal, the moment, the play every Colts fan will remember forever. Luck found Hilton on a deep slant beyond two Chiefs defenders. Touchdown. Colts, 45-44.
"Usually on that play, the guy going deep is just there to clear out the underneath area,'' Hasselbeck. "But I heard Andrew and Pep (Hamilton) talking about it, and Andrew had that look like, 'Yeah, I like it.' That's what I'll remember about this game: the throw he made. So confident, so definite. It was a line drive; usually you like to get a little air under it. But it was perfect.''
Pagano watched Hilton enter the end zone and thought like a coach, especially one who's seen his defense get annihilated by Alex Smith and company. "Scored too fast,'' he said. "You think I'm kidding.''
Somehow, though, they held on. For dear life, they held on. One stop, and they finally got it.
After the game, Erik Walden walked through an emptying locker room and yelled at no one in particular.
"Epic, baby,'' he said. "That was epic.''
Ricky Jean Francois shook his head.
"Epic ain't the word,'' he said, laughing. "Epic ain't the word.''
"All of us understand, we were just a part of an instant classic,'' guard Mike McGlynn said. "Just awesome. Best comeback I've ever been a part of. The one thing that never went through anybody's mind was, 'Well, we're getting beat, it's been a good season and that's it.' No, man, we battled our a---- off. We never stopped battling. And that guy (Luck), we jumped on his shoulders. He was amazing.''
It was so remarkable, Pagano wasn't even fretting the coming Snowpocalyse.
"I'm just thinking about how good (Sunday) is going to be,'' he said. "Snow or no snow, I don't care.''
Will anybody care? Indy will be bathing in this one for a long time. The Colts took the necessary next step. Whatever they do now, whether in Denver or New England, it's all gravy.
We're going to win this game.
Stay with me, stay with me.
Luck did it. The Colts did it. The legend begins.
Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star. Call him at (317) 444-6643 or email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BKravitz.