Intro: Indianapolis wiped out the biggest deficit in franchise history and the second-largest in NFL playoff history by earning a 45-44 victory in the Wild Card round after trailing Kansas City, 38-10, in the third quarter. It was the fourth comeback win by the Colts in 2013, and it sends them deeper into the playoffs than they have been since 2009.
INDIANAPOLIS – Saturday’s improbable and pulsating 45-44 victory over Kansas City in the Wild Card playoffs was achieved by Indianapolis overcoming the largest deficit in franchise history and the second-largest ever in league post-season play.
The Colts did almost enough to lose before finishing a nose ahead in what Chuck Pagano called an “epic” victory.
Indianapolis always uses a 24-hour rule to process the outcomes of games and with a post-season date Saturday in New England, putting the result behind is in order. So is correcting matters that made such a comeback necessary.
It was one of the most unforgettable Colts and NFL playoff games ever, and here are FIVE THINGS LEARNED.
ANDREW LUCK CONTINUES TO DEFINE SPECIAL – Already a playoff starter in consecutive seasons to open a career and having tied for the second-most starting victories (22) over the first two seasons by a QB in the Super Bowl era, Luck delivered a performance that almost defied belief and description by overcoming three interceptions with four touchdown passes and guiding the Colts back from a 38-10 second-half hole to a 45-44 victory. Luck helped the Colts out-score Kansas City 35-6 over the game’s final 27 minutes. He moved the club to three TDs in 16 snaps to narrow the 28-point deficit to 10 points entering the last quarter, then capped a marathon 90-yard march by recovering a fumble and running/diving for a touchdown. At 44-38 past the midway point of the final quarter, he converted a third-and-five with an 11-yard completion, then reared back and hit T.Y. Hilton for a 64-yard strike to settle the matter. Indianapolis had five TDs in six possessions to earn the win, and Luck’s 443 yards ranked fifth in NFL playoff history. In a franchise that had John Unitas and Peyton Manning win titles, Luck’s first-ever playoff win was one for the ages. Afterward, all he could do was credit teammates for sticking with him, while Ryan Grigson compared him to Michael Jordan for always excelling in the clutch and wanting to do so in those moments.
BELIEF NEVER WANES – Just this season, Indianapolis rallied from 12 points down to beat Seattle, 14 to top Tennessee and 18 to dispatch Houston. Those were the eighth, ninth and 10th comeback wins under Pagano. Saturday’s stage was bigger than the regular season, and the deficit was larger than any overcome in the Colts’ 60-plus seasons. Still, a band of brothers fought, chipped away, didn’t judge, stuck to the process, honed fundamentals and techniques – all the things Chuck Pagano said afterward were critical but made him sound like a broken record when he cited them. These players are tight. Had the comeback not happened and they had to answer why, they would have done so with complete professionalism. That is not the case and a group that never quits has 60 more minutes to fight. Belief in Pagano and the program are as solid as any team has in this league. Players play for each other as much as they play for themselves, maybe more so.
SPECIAL NIGHT – Knowing how talented Kansas City is on specialty units, Indianapolis copped a better kickoff return average (30.0) than the Chiefs (26.7). Kansas City’s average was almost three yards off the NFL record it set during the season (29.4). Eight times Pat McAfee sailed kickoffs into the end zone and seven times Quintin Demps brought them out. McAfee’s kicks were five, eight, nine, six, four, six, eight and eight yards deep, and only the last one was downed by Demps, and that came after the Colts’ last score. His longest return was 34 yards, and Indianapolis met the goal of Special Teams Coach Tom McMahon of having the Chiefs play full-court offense. On kickoff drive starts, the Colts held a two-yard advantage (nine drives, avg. of 22-yard line; KC, eight drives, avg. of 20). Additionally, McAfee’s lone punt of 51 yards was returned only six yards, another victory for the Colts. Special teams were an issue in the club’s last home playoff loss in 2010 as the Jets scored a last-second field goal for a 17-16 win. This time? No dice.
MATHIS MOMENT – All year, Robert Mathis has helped turn games with sacks and strip-sacks. His strip-sack against Denver helped ignite a nine-point splurge that put the Colts ahead in the second quarter with a lead it never yielded. He has found times to bedevil quarterbacks, and his sack-strip of Alex Smith in the third quarter set the stage for a quick 41-yard TD drive that cut a 38-10 gap to 38-24. Kansas City had run a nice offensive tempo to negate Mathis (he was an eyelash away from Smith before he threw a 79-yard TD pass for a 17-7 lead) most of the game, but the NFL sack champion got one that counted. This team feeds off many sources, but this “pillar” player had a timely play in a comeback. Since Luck said there were no 28-point plays to be made, this one play was huge.
WINNING KEY STATISTICS – An abnormal day saw the Colts win a game with a minus-three turnover ratio while allowing more than 500 net yards and owning the ball not even 23 minutes. Kansas City converted nearly 60 percent of it third downs (nine-of-16) and inflicted major damage on that down with two early TDs. All year long, Pagano said next to points that turnovers tell the tale of outcomes. The Colts were out-scored, 17-14, in points resulting from turnovers, so that tale was suspended for a day, a key day. According to ESPN number crunchers, the Colts had only a 3.6 percent chance to win when they trailed by 21 points at the half. After Luck’s interception to open the third quarter, that percent dipped to 0.9 when the Chiefs upped the deficit to 38-10. Whatever numbers may be, Indianapolis caught lightning in a bottle with the NFL’s second-largest post-season rally. Winning twice while having such deficits in key categories likely is not possible next weekend.
Tags: Andrew Luck, chuck pagano, indianapolis colts, pat mcafee, robert mathis, ryan grigson, T.Y. Hilton, Tom McMahon
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While the names Andrew Luck and Robert Mathis will appear on many Pro Bowl ballots, there’s another Colts player that certainly deserves a consideration.
Sergio Brown might not be a household name but what he has done to flip field position for the Colts this year has been noticed.
As one of the Colts gunners, Brown has forced numerous fair catches and downed several punts inside of the opponent’s 10-yard line.
“As soon as Sergio got here, we knew we had something special,” punter Pat McAfee said earlier this week. “People don’t understand the importance of a gunner on a punt team. Sergio is a guy who can change the game not only for me but for our team”
Brown has five solo special teams tackles on the year. Special teams coach Tom McMahon also gives his guys a “tackle” for any player that forces a fair catch or downs a punt inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.
“Sergio is consistent,” McMahon says. “The best thing he does is he gets all the way down and then he looks late (meaning his back is facing the opponent’s goal line before turning around to find the ball).
“At the end of the day when he pins them down there and then forces a 98-yard drive, it makes everybody better.”
The combination of McAfee and Brown has allowed the Colts to win the hidden yardage debate at critical times.
“I pride myself on doing that,” Brown says of downing the football deep. “It definitely helps when you have an outstanding punter like Pat and he can hang them up there for me and give me time to get down there and do the other half of it.”
And what does McAfee think of Brown?
“He’s the best in the league and I don’t think it’s really a question.”
Tags: pat mcafee, Sergio Brown, Tom McMahon
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Last time the Buffalo Bills made their way into Lucas Oil Stadium, T.Y. Hilton showcased the skills that have new Colts special teams coach Tom McMahon anxious to see his punt return unit in 2013.
Back on Nov. 25, 2012, Hilton fielded a Bills punt at the Colts own 25-yard line. The rookie side stepped two would-be tacklers and allowed his breakaways speed to do the rest in a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“T.Y. has the ability to create his own return and those are the guys that are special,” McMahon said. “Anybody can run one if it’s all blocked perfect. But he has the ability to create his own return and that’s the biggest thing that excites me about him.”
While the punt returner is virtually set in stone, McMahon said the Colts are still searching for a permanent kick returner.
“We are trying to find a guy there right now,” McMahon said. “We drafted (Kerwynn Williams) with that mind that he needs to produce as a kick returner but there’s some other guys that are going to come in here and compete with him. Cassius (Vaughn) we expect to a nice job back there, (Jabin) Sambrano, (LaVon) Brazill when he gets back.”
No matter who is back there to field kickoffs come Sept. 8, McMahon has specific goals he is looking for out of his return units.
Special teams is filled with hidden yardage and McMahon knows the importance of giving the Colts offense an even shorter field to march.
“We need drive starts on kickoff returns, period,” McMahon said. “If we average 15 yards a return but every single one of them is at the 30-yard line, that’s pretty darn good.
“From our punt pressure unit, we need to give the offense their first first down. We need 10 yards minimum per return, getting that first, first down.”
Tags: Cassius Vaughn, Jabin Sambrano, kerwynn williams, LaVon Brazill, T.Y. Hilton, Tom McMahon
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