While many NFL observers looked at a rebuilding Colts franchise and ranked the team dead last in the league preseason power rankings, Coach Chuck Pagano said he was building a monster. But not even Pagano, as he watched back in Indianapolis as his team beat the Lions Sunday, could have imagined how ferocious the Colts have become. The Colts are 8-4, 7-2 since Pagano began treatment for leukemia and interim coach Bruce Arians took over.
"The only stat that matters is No. 8 (wins)," said a happy, but hoarse Arians after a dramatic 35-33 comeback win over the Lions. "We've got a fighting bunch of guys and we've got a fighting coach at home."
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck threw a pair of touchdowns passes in the final 2:39, the second a 14-yarder that Donnie Avery ran into the end zone as time expired. Luck's eight victories are the most ever by a number one draft pick quarterback in his rookie season. As a reminder and reference, Peyton Manning won three games with the Colts his rookie season.
Sunday was Luck's most dramatic performance this season, certainly not his best. Luck completed just 24 of his 54 passes. He did throw for 391 yards and four touchdowns. But Luck also three interceptions. Luck has thrown 13 of his 16 interceptions this season on the road.
"I feel there is somewhat of an onus on you when you throw two, three picks or miss open guys," said Luck. "I'm thankful just to have a chance to go back out there to try and win the game. "Credit the defense and special teams for that."
The Colts improved to 7-1 this season in games decided by one possession.
"We've got a bunch of guys in the locker room that maybe don't know any better," said Luck. "They just keep playing. It helps that we've won some close games before. Mr. (Colts general manager Ryan) Grigson has put together a locker room of guys that just love football."
"We don't know any better" echoed veteran Colts defensive end Cory Redding. "We just keep playing. We always say, ‘Don't look at the scoreboard.' You just keep playing. And when the clock reads zero, look up and see where it's at. We don't have to be the best team on Sunday. We've just got to beat that team by one."
The Colts won by two, their first win with a touchdown on the final play of regulation since September 30, 1990, at Philadelphia. Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau completed a six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bill Brooks against the Eagles.
The Colts set a goal when Pagano began treatments to extend the season long enough for the head coach to return to the sideline. The stated target is the final home game of the regular season on December 30th. If the Colts make the playoffs, Pagano's chances of being ready to lead the team in January are even greater. The Colts lead the wildcard race. With four games to go, two against Houston, the Colts trail the 11- 1 Texans by three games in the AFC South. Catching Houston is unlikely, but not impossible.
"This is greatness," said Avery, who caught five passes for 91 yards and a pair of TD's against the Lions. "Everybody's down for the cause. Everybody believes in everybody. Team chemistry - we're getting the job done."
The Colts come home to play the Tennessee Titans next Sunday at 1:00 p.m.