INDIANAPOLIS – Those who did so will never admit it-and only a few trained eyes high above would have caught them.
When Knile Davis reached the endzone in the opening minutes of the third quarter and the number next to the Chiefs’ score read 38, a few people in the dark blue decided to head for the exits.
The Colts were down 28 points with under 30 minutes to play-a playoff deficit overcome just once before for victory-a 32-point rally by the Bills to beat the Oilers in 1993. Some of these fans figured they’d seen enough for the 2013 season.
Could you blame them? We’ll will this team, yeah.
They should have known better.
If anything a 45-44 comeback win over Kansas City in their AFC Wild Card playoff game on Saturday fits this team’s “modus operandi.” It’s sometimes stressful, partially maddening yet never short on excitement for Colts fans in a season that continues farther than any has since 2009.
“Never a doubt, right?,” joked Chuck Pagano as he stepped to the podium on Saturday night. “This is how you draw it up.”
While the notion of that seems ludicrous there are some who might believe it. Eleven times the Colts have started of games in the 2013 season trailing at the start yet found a way to way to win seven of them en route to an 11-5 record.
Saturday’s playoff opener, however, topped them all.
“That was epic right there. I’ve never been a part of something like that,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman after the game. “Most teams will come out the second half and just give up, never, we’re a 60-minute football team and we’re going to fight for 60 minutes and that’s definitely the message we tried to send today.”
Like a few times before, it took them a while.
The Chiefs scored first, let the Colts tie the game and the went on a 31-3 burst over 30 minutes. The Colts turned the ball over three times and their defense had no answer for a Kansas City offense surviving off the pocket movements and crisp throws by Alex Smith, who threw four touchdowns as the Chiefs grabbed a 38-10 lead.
Did panic set in? Andrew Luck said no. After all, they’ve been there plenty of times before.
“This team has never panicked since I’ve been a part of this club,” said the quarterback of the Colts as they stared down a 28-point deficit with 13:39 left in the third. “They’ve never panicked in any game we’ve been a part of. Up big, down big, close game, first quarter, fourth quarter.
“These guys just play football. We’re sort of reaffirming that on the sidelines. We don’t need anything special.”
Only a quarterback who could be described the same-and he saved his best for the stretch as he has a number of times this season. Luck led the Colts on five scoring drives in the final 28 minutes-three of those coming after throwing his third interception of the game late in the third quarter.
He recovered a fumble and ran it into the endzone for a touchdown in the fourth to cut the Chiefs lead to three then hitting a T.Y. Hilton for a 64-yard touchdown strike to give the Colts a one-point lead they wouldn’t lose. It was reminiscent of games against the Seahawks in Indianapolis, Texans in Houston, the Titans in Tennessee where the Colts overcame double-digit deficits behind the passing prowess of Luck.
Yet his 443 yards and four touchdowns were at a different level.
“He has the stuff that makes legends,” said linebacker Robert Mathis of Luck’s performance. “That was a legendary performance that he put on today. We jumped on his back and he just lead us to wherever we need to go.”
Unlike the regular season-where bad starts were met with questions on how to fix them-there is a little less worry about style points as they move forward. Indeed the Colts’ survived their traditional method of winning to advance to the AFC Divisional Playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season.
It’s either a rematch with Peyton Manning and the Broncos or a trip to New England to face the Patriots. The Colts will be underdogs heading to either place with a style that keeps its fans on edge in a literal sense and whether this is a spring-board to bigger things or proves to be exhausting of emotions is still yet to be seen.
At least you’ll know the kind of pattern the game might take.
“You can’t measure his heart. And these guys got more heart and grit than anybody I’ve ever been around,” said Pagano of his team. “Just the simple fact that they stuck to the process and never doubted.”
Colts fans really shouldn’t have either. Perhaps a few realized that when they reached the parking lot sometime in the third quarter.