Saturday night’s Colts victory over Chiefs still seems unreal

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Last night I tried my absolute best to write all of my thoughts and feelings from last night’s Colts comeback victory over the Chiefs. I wanted words to flow from my fingers like poetry. I wanted you the reader to know how my ears were still ringing from the eruption of the crowd, to feel the sensation of watching T.Y. Hilton sprinting down the field for the game-winning score, and for my scripted-letters to inform just how emotional the Colts locker room seemed after the game. There was just one problem, as I was essentially in this emotional-state for the following six hours after the game:

Still on Sunday afternoon, I have a “WOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH” feeling flowing from my body.

I find that perhaps one sporting-event a year gets me this riled up, with the 2013 Indianapolis 500 being the last. Look, I’m not even a Colts fan in any way, shape, or form. But being a fan of sports, being a fan of greatness, and getting the chance to see Andrew Luck charge down the field in historic fashion to lead the Colts from down 28-points is something that will stick with all of us for a long time.  And thankfully due to Snowpacalypse 2014, I’m taking the extra-Sunday to observe how exactly all of this unfolded.

So in the next three-thousand words or so, I’m going to go through some random observations of mine from the game in no real-specific order of importance. Just stick with me, it’s hard to have a clear mind when you are spinning around the floors like Homer in the Fox59 building.

The Colts Really did look that bad, while Alex Smith looked that great.

Through all the positive-talk of how the Colts were playing entering Saturday night’s contest against the Chiefs, there had been one rather large elephant in the room that everyone tended to ignore. Sure, after playing less than stellar football from November 3rd to December 8th that included three losses, Indianapolis was able to bounce-back in impressive fashion with dominating wins. However, these victories came against a Houston team that had already essentially thrown away their season, a Kansas City squad that essentially checked itself out (and that wasn’t happening a second time), and a Jacksonville Jaguars team that people thought at one point this season could potentially lose all of their games.

So when the Kansas City Chiefs were able to march into the end zone seemingly at will against the Colts in the first half of Saturday night, it started to make me think that perhaps it would have been better if the game had been blacked-out after all. And as great as a comeback from down 28-points is, you have to remember, in order to do that a team has to find ways to go down by 28-points at first. How did this happen?

“They made plays and capitalized on our mistakes,” said Colts defensive end Cory Redding after the game. “They made plays.”

Not only did the Chiefs make plays, but Alex Smith found a way to transform himself into the modern-day Joe Montana. Never before in the history of the league had a quarterback lost a contest (regular season and playoffs) while throwing four touchdowns, zero interceptions, 350+ yards, and he even rushed for 57-yards. Read that line five more times, and think about how untruly unlucky you have to be for that to happen. I was told earlier in the day over breakfast with Chiefs beat reporter Herbie Teope that Alex Smith has essentially had it with the title of “game manager”, and on Saturday night, Smith was looking like everything you could hope for from a former number-one draft pick who was shedding that moniker.

Smith on his own outrushed the Colts in the first half, he avoided blitzes as if he was playing Pacman, and more-impressively, he did all of this without the help of Jamaal Charles (a player that is virtually half of the Chiefs offense) who left the game early with concussion. His opening 14-play drive down the field only had one third down, a perfect six-yard pass to Dwayne Bowe for the score, silenced everybody in Lucas Oil except the handful of thousands of Chiefs fans that impressively made the drive. Smith had a gorgeous deep-ball to Donnie Avery for a 79-yard score (thanks to some awful Colts coverage that didn’t seem to remember their former teammate in Avery can only run straight), and a touchdown shovel-pass to Anthony Sherman after dancing around the Colts defense inside the ten was a thing of beauty. At that point in the game I was convinced it was Alex Smith’s day, and the second quarter wasn’t even finished.

Later Smith led a sixteen-play drive that put the Chiefs up 31-10, converting four third-downs along the way. The touchdown on that possession, which saw Smith hand the ball up to Kniles Davis who half-trucked over Redding into the end zone, summed up the entire first half defensively for the Colts. Except on one play.

(One last thought on Alex Smith. Considering how the fans of the league tend to give him less respect than most quarters, how the 49ers switched to Colin Kaepernick mid-last season despite the fact he was playing well, or how Andy Reid is getting all the credit for the Chiefs turn-around even though during his first-season with the team he took a two-win team to the playoffs, you just want to pat him on the back when he says “Any time you’re leading like that and then have them battle back and then take it … losing by a point is a tough pill to swallow.” It’ll get better at some point Alex, or at least I hope it does.)

Antoine Bethea’s game-saving tackle helped keep this game in check.

Fans will forever remember Andrew Luck’s fumble and scoop and TY Hilton having the game of a lifetime, but the unsung hero of the Colts victory will always be Antoine Bethea.

Early in the first quarter, with the game tied 7-7, Smith found Dwayne Bowe in the middle of the field about ten-yards or so out. Bowe, who absolutely has a knack for finding ways to be a Colts-killer, found himself in the perfect position to only get slowed down by LaRon Landry, he broke through a tackle past Greg Toler, and while all of this happened, Antoine Bethea found a way to chase down Bowe despite being three-plus yards away from him through the entire sequence. It was a beautiful thing to see, as if Bethea was putting absolutely everything on the line in a win-or-die situation, and giving the extra oomph one needs in the playoffs to just be in position to make a play. As Bowe slowed down and looked behind him he put a hand out to stiff-arm Bethea in the face, and on contact, Bethea slid down Bowe’s body to luckily get one hand on his jersey and another on his foot. The Chiefs receiver went 63-yards down the field, and yet on a desperation play from a veteran in his eighth-year in the league, he was tripped up right in front of the end zone. These are the types of plays that make or break plays in the long run of a football game.

What followed up? The Chiefs getting stopped on a three-and-out, giving them a 10-7 lead at that point in the game, but subtracting the four points that would have been the difference in the game. For Bethea it was just a play that in the end saved perhaps one of the more memorable football games of his career with the Colts franchise.

The closest one I could say is the 2006 AFC Championship game, but this one right here was amazing. Just the way the team stuck together and kept fighting. It just shows what type of team we have.”

T.Y. Hilton played the type of game you would expect from Reggie Wayne.

Despite going down 38-10 in the third quarter, the Colts had two things that were absolutely going for them. One, Andrew Luck was still finding ways to make Andrew Luck-like plays (more on this later), and T.Y. Hilton showed early in the first-quarter in the Colts opening drive (Luck found him three times including a touchdown) that he had officially came to play.

Look, 2013 was supposed to be the year that T.Y. Hilton was going to break-out and be a standout receiver for Luck, and in an unfair situation, Hilton was kind of robbed of that. You can’t blame Hilton for not putting up Pro Bowl numbers after Reggie Wayne went down with an ACL-tear against the Denver Broncos, because opposing defenses essentially shifted all of their attention away from the team’s other receivers and strictly on Hilton. Throw in the sub-par year from Darrius Heyward-Bey, the team working in new receivers from all-corners of the Earth, and Pep Hamilton’s conservative play-calling for the first three-fourths of the season, Hilton never really had the chance to quite have the season some may have predicted.

However, the games are still played on the field, and Hilton needed to step-up for the Colts to have a chance at victory. On Saturday night, number-thirteen did exactly that. Hilton had a thirteen receptions (no other Colts receiver had five) and a career-high 224 yards on the biggest stage, catching a ball on four of the team’s five scoring drives in the second half. None of course was bigger than him breaking away down the field on a 64-yard touchdown reception that put the Colts up for good.

“Before we broke the huddle coming off the sideline, Coach Pagano told me ‘Go win the game for us’,” said Hilton. “We got in the huddle. Me and Andrew (Luck) started talking. He called the play and said, ‘Man, just run. Just run.’ I knew they how they were playing me. I took an outside release, got up on the safety, got his hips turned and Andrew let it go. I used my speed and got past both of them.”

On the sidelines after the play, you could see Reggie Wayne going over to the sidelines and celebrating with Hilton. It was a sight to see, seeing the former number-one option celebrating the great play of a teammate that he molded and mentored for two years now.

Not enough can be said about Andrew Luck.

I’m not sure I had ever seen Colts quarterback Andrew Luck that joyous before. And no, this wasn’t after the game, but instead in the moments leading up to the national anthem. Luck had the biggest grin across his face, was high-fiving teammates, hugged Head Coach Chuck Pagano, and had the happiest game-face that I had ever seen in my life. It was as he was the wound-up kid in the third grade that can’t wait to play football at the afternoon recess, and the teacher had just yelled out “Kids get your coats!”

And despite the team falling behind, you have to imagine that this was the type of game that Andrew Luck had been dreaming to play his entire life. Of course, he probably would have opted to not have Alex Smith carve up the Colts defense or Trent Richardson (who played his way to the bench) fumbling the ball on his only snap of the game, but once the Chiefs went up the entire Colts offense was put in his hands. The only way to come back from double-digits in the National Football League his to consistently pass the ball on most plays, and that has to be music to the ears of a great quarterback.

Now was Luck flawless in the game? You can’t go down 38-10 and have three interceptions and have a perfect game in the end. But once again it was captain comeback, leading his team to his seventh victory in two seasons while playing from behind ten-points or more, looking cool and calm as normal.

Personally for me, I thought Luck had brought his A-game on fourth and one play early in the second quarter. About a month back Andrew Luck was asked when the team would design a run-play for him, and on the snap Luck perfectly faked a handoff to Trent Richardson. The entire defense-bit, and Luck scrambled around the corner like few quarterbacks who have played in this league could ever dream of. I mean, doesn’t this guy just look like a football player?

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Even more surprising, Andrew Luck perfected his slide at the end of the 21-yard gain, something he had struggled with all season long to the point the Indianapolis Indians (the city’s Triple-A baseball team) were offering to help him out.

Once the team went down 38-10, Luck had drives that might only take place in the newest version of Madden Football. Take out his two-interceptions, and Luck finished three-scoring drives in the third that were masterful: 5 plays, 80 yards; 5 plays, 41 yards; 6 plays, 80 yards.

The next scoring drive for the Colts in the fourth quarter was a little bit more conventional. With plenty of time on their side now and a lead that Indianapolis was closing in on, Luck drove 88-yards down the field on a mixture of eleven pass and rush plays that put the team down at the two-yard line. That of course setup perhaps the most awesome play (Can it really be described any other way?) of Luck’s two-year career.

Andrew Luck hiked the ball and stepped back to hand the ball off to Donald Brown, who took three yards before Chiefs Pro Bowl linebacker missiled directly Brown and the ball. Luck was in the process of stepping back, and by time he turned around to see a football flying into the air off of lineman Samson Satele, stayed low and grabbed the ball, and then dove two-yards fully extended like Superman in perhaps one of the most heads-up plays you will ever see from a quarterback. Which is even more incredible, considering the fact how many heads-up plays quarterbacks tend to make.

“The ball sort of bounced,” said Luck. “I sort of set Donald (Brown) up for failure a little bit there. It was a loaded box and I called a run. I was hoping Donald would do one of his amazing plays like he’d been doing all game. It didn’t happen. Sort of saw the ball there and I think you revert back to the playground, whatever. Pick it up, try and score.”

At that point Lucas Oil Stadium erupted into pure pandemonium, and you could officially sense that the comeback was going to be completed at one point or another. The fact that it happened on a perfect pass from Luck to Hilton, finishing Luck with four touchdowns, three interceptions, and a career-high 443 yards was the perfect finish to perhaps the first legendary moment of quarterback that everybody is expecting greatness from before his career is all said and done.

(Overall a pretty good night for Andrew Luck. Well, until his punter tweeted out a picture of him in the locker room, one that just happened to have him undressed in the corner. As Pat McAfee later tweeted, “Oh boy.. Half naked Andrew in the back of that last one.. He looked (darn) good though.”)

Other small details from that game that stand out.

– Donald Brown once again stepped up and showed just how important he was to this Colts offense. Brown finished the game with a total of 102 total yards on offense and two touchdowns, scoring both of them in a row to cut the Chiefs lead down to 38-10 to 38-14.

“We knew we had to execute,” said Brown. “We’ve been in situation like this before so we just had to stay the course. Guys couldn’t get too high or get too low and make plays when your number is called.”

Perfect quote from a guy who was the third-string running back behind Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard before both of them got hurt, and was in-theory probably behind Trent Richardson when the Colts traded this upcoming season’s first-round draft pick for him. In 2013-14, Brown has just waited for his time and has proved to be valuable.

– Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and despite playing disappointing football in the first half, the Colts defense held the Chiefs to just six-points after the 13:39 mark in the third quarter. Of course all of this was spark-plugged by a strip-sack from the should-be defensive player of the year Robert Mathis, the heart and soul of a defense that has shown it can make big plays against the top teams in the NFL when it needs too.

– Somehow Adam Vinatieri always finds himself kicking at the end of the most memorable playoff games. The ones that stand out of course are the game-winning field goals for the New England Patriots including the kicks that sent the “Snow Bowl” against the Raiders into overtime and the one that ended the game, and undoubtedly the the game-winners in Super Bowl XXXVI and XXXVIII. But there was Adam Vinatieri, with the game tied at 44-44, lining up to kick a game-winning extra point in the second greatest comeback in NFL Playoffs history. It of course went through to lock up the victory, and afterwards Vinatieri laughed when I asked him if that was perhaps the greatest extra-point of his career.

“I don’t know,” said Vinatieri with a big smile on his face. “It’s a bit hairy since extra-points you are obviously supposed to make them all. It’s a little crazy at the end when you have to put it through, but once we got that one, I knew the defense was going to hold and we were going to win that thing.”

Now comes the hard part: Letting this go and looking forward to New England.

By time this was written, the Colts would have known for about four hours now that they will be traveling to New England for their next playoff contest on Saturday night. That means for four hours now the members of the team have essentially already let this game go, which I think had to have been difficult considering how many players were emotional and joyous in the locker room last night.

I don’t know what next week (or possibly the weeks after if they win) bring for this Colts team, but one thing is for sure. The members of this Colts squad will give the “This win was great but we need to put this game behind us and focus on the New England Patriots,” but years from now when their playing careers are all over, they will be talking about this game for ages.