In 90 yards, the Colts future comes to life

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Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton celebrates after scoring the winning touchdown int the Colts' 25-24 win over the Browns.

CLEVELAND – There was once a former Cardinal signal caller who found himself backed up nearly to Lake Erie with time working against him.

Just 5:43 seconds remained on the clock and a muffed kick return left his Broncos pinned on their own one-and-a-half yard line down seven. This was the AFC Championship Game for the 1986 regular season and John Elway was under a whole lot of pressure.

In just his fourth year in the league the former No. 1 overall pick sat in a place where his potential could become a reality or get postponed for another year.

On January 11, 1987, the former happened.

Fifteen plays, 98 yards were churned up with a steady diet of early runs and late passes that led to the game-tying touchdown and an overtime win. “The Drive” as it would be called with wonder in Denver and eternal dread in Cleveland painted the portrait of a career for Elway and his franchise for the next decade.

Nearly 28 years later, another former Cardinal faced similar circumstances.

Granted this was no AFC Championship game. The path to getting to a Super Bowl could be aided but certainly not decided when Andrew Luck got the ball on his own ten-yard line down five points with 3:46 remaining. Comparing an iconic moment in the history of the NFL with a Week 14 match-up between the Colts and the Browns might not seem too advantageous.

This was, in fact, an ugly game protagonist in this scenario. Luck turned the ball over three times and two of those led to scores which made him responsible for more points (14) than the Colts defense allowed the entire day (10).

“I had some real bonehead mistakes, two touchdowns on my account, against us,” said a very honest Luck when asked his first question at a news conference on Sunday. “I can’t do that.”

But what he did in that final 3:46 did two things which Elway’s march down the field accomplished as well. For one, Luck once broke the hearts of Browns fans by leading the Colts on game-winning 11-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that allowed his team to leave FirstEnergy Stadium with a 25-24 win.

More importantly, through his play and the young athletes around him, Luck showed who and how the Colts might find their way to the promise land from here till the end of the season-and perhaps beyond.

To start, continue to keep your eye on Donte Moncrief. It’s because of what he could and what another couldn’t accomplish on Sunday.

Reggie Wayne dropped three passes. It’s almost unthinkable for someone who has been on of the pillars of the team’s run of success over the past 15 years but perhaps a reason was revealed in a radio interview after the game.

Head coach Chuck Pagano said the Colts Radio Network that Wayne has been playing through a torn triceps. When the specific injury happened is unknown but Wayne’s arm was in pain against the Bengals in October and he missed the next week’s game in Pittsburgh.

In the same conversation Pagano hinted that Wayne was dealing with a knee and elbow issue, so his health for the rest of the season could be in jeopardy.

Which brings us back to Moncrief, who saved the game very early in this march downfield. On third down he found a lane down the middle then made a dive for the catch to not only get a first down but also a few yards after catch to get the Colts to their 40.

“He shows up in big situations,” said Luck of Moncrief, who finished the day with three catches. “He’s very patient and does his job. He knows eventually the ball will come. I didn’t realize he was still running. He is always fighting for extra yards.”

That set up the next sequence of events involving two more men of the future, but it was one that showed his true progress. To be fair Dwayne Allen didn’t get his chance since he was interfered with going down the middle which put the Colts at the Cleveland 25-yard line.

That did, however, give Coby Fleener the chance to show that perhaps his drops are fewer and farther between than before. On another third down–this time of ten yards–Fleener was able to get through the grasp of Donte Whitner and come down with the 12-yard catch and keep the drive alive.

Then came Boom. If there was any play that showed the backfield might be Daniel Herron’s to stay for the near future it was the one he made on fourth-and-one with 44 seconds left. The initial push left him stopped in his tracks but Boom kept pushing. To the outside he went. An opening was there. Herron dove ahead for the game-saving first down.

“It wasn’t all me, we do everything as a team,” said Herron who passed the praise for the conversion. “I couldn’t have done it without the line. It was ugly but it all worked out for us and we got the first down.”

Luck disagreed.

“Probably one of the best half-yard runs I’ve ever seen in my life,” said the quarterback-who was set up for some old heroics with the Colts’ new undisputed top receiver.

T.Y. Hilton got the Colts back in the game with some nifty yards after catch on a 42-yard scoring strike from Luck but he didn’t have to work that hard to get the game-winner. He just ran a quick route in the endzone for a two-yard touchdown that finished his ten-catch, 150 yard day.

“We go through that situation so many times that it’s just easy for us,” said Hilton, whose catch with 32 seconds left completed Andrew Luck’s 12th career fourth quarter comeback win. “Whether it’s the two-minute drill, a four-minute drill, we’ve been down that road so many times.”

From now on, this looks like the group that will travel down the road together. A poised Luck can look for Moncrief for the catch instead of Wayne. Fleener’s hands can be trusted in the most rugged of situations. The fifth-round pick of the 2012 Draft (Herron) will get those extra yards many expected out of the third overall(Trent Richardson) in that selection year.

A now solidified battery of Luck and Hilton finished off the rest.

Eleven plays. Ninety yards. A glimpse of the future and perhaps what might be in the team’s past.

Hey, it worked for the last guy from Stanford who escaped the shadow of his own goal line to find success on the shore of Lake Erie.