The Indianapolis Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44 in the wild card game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday evening, staging a dramatic comeback that left the home crowd breathless.
To say that it was a game of two halves would be an understatement.
The Chiefs led Indianapolis for much of the game - by as much as 28 points. The Colts managed to turn things around in the second half, creating a dramatic, high-scoring shootout instead of the blowout that threatened in the first half.
The Colts staged a third-quarter comeback after struggling with turnovers in the first half of the game. Down by 28 points at the top of the third, Indianapolis slowly clawed their way out of the hole they dug for themselves to take the lead with 4:29 to go.
Kansas City took advantage early in the first quarter, with Alex Smith connecting with Dwayne Bowe for a six-yard touchdown. Five minutes later, the Colts' TY Hilton caught a ten-yard pass from Andrew Luck to put the Colts on the scoreboard.
But the Chiefs stayed on top with a daring 79-yard pass from Smith to Donnie Avery, bringing the score to 17-7, and Anthony Sherman's TD gave Kansas City an even greater lead of 24-7 early in the second quarter.
The Colts were held to a field goal to bring the score to 24-10, but the Chiefs' Knile Davis four-yard run put Kansas City ahead further by 31-10 before the end of the first half.
Dramatic third quarter
The Chiefs did not let up, opening the second half with another touchdown by Davis to make it 38-10.
Donald Brown's run led to a much-needed touchdown for the struggling Colts, bringing the score to 38-17 with over ten minutes to go in the third quarter. Another three-yard pass from Brown gave the Colts more hope halfway through the third, 38-24.
Indianapolis held the Chiefs to a field goal to bring it to 41-24, but Luck connected with Coby Fleener to bring the Colts within ten points at 41-31 with a few minutes to go in the third. Andrew Luck picked up a fumbled ball and clawed his way into the end zone for another Colts touchdown, bringing the Colts within three points with over ten minutes left on the clock - 41-38.
Kansas City got another three points with a field goal, but Coby Fleener brought Indianapolis what it had been craving all night: a lead.
The final score was 45-44.
This week cornerbacks Vontae Davis, Greg Toler and Darius Butler went through practices without issue. Defensive end Cory Redding injured his shoulder against Kansas City in week 16, but doesn't expect to be limited on Saturday.
"I feel great," said Redding. "I had a week to recover from my shoulder injury in Kansas City two weeks ago. Feel strong, stable and great to be back around my teammates. To be in the playoffs is something special. It's something hard to do. It's very hard to win in this league consistently week in and week out. All the things that we've done have got us to this point. We're happy, but we're not satisfied. There is still work to be done."
The Colts trounced the Chiefs in a playoff preview two weeks ago. They forced four turnovers en route to a 23-7 win. In the last three games, the Colts defense has forced 8 turnovers.
"Turnovers are big for us," said safety Antoine Bethea. "Being able to get our offense and Andrew (Luck) back on the field, that goes a long way. These past three games, being able to get turnovers and get Andrew and the offense back on the field, you see they put some good numbers up these past three weeks. So if we can continue to do that throughout the playoffs, that'll take us a long way."
Luck has improved greatly in his second season. He cut the number of interceptions he's thrown in half, from 18 down to nine. A year ago, he threw one in the playoff loss in Baltimore. That error has resonated.
"I think that mistakes carry so much more weight," said Luck. "You can't come back after the game and say, 'Alright, we made these mistakes. Let's fix it next week and get back on track.' It seems like mistakes are so much bigger. I think you really have to take care of the football, convert third downs, get first downs. If you're in the red zone, you have to score points."