INDIANAPOLIS — When the day comes and Tom Brady is no longer the franchise quarterback of the Patriots, the Foxborough Faithful can only hope that his replacement is as worthy of the post as Peyton Manning’s successor in Indianapolis.
A game for the ages — and not for the faint of heart — will go down as the day the Legend of Luck spun off from the Manning Legacy.
Andrew Luck authored one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, rallying the Colts from a 28-point third-quarter deficit to pull out a heart-pounding 45-44 win over the Chiefs in an AFC wild-card game.
Luck, both uppercase and little case, was definitely on the Colts’ side as they staged the second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history.
Luck accounted for the winning touchdown, throwing a 64-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton that looked like it came down on a zip line with 4:21 to go to give the Colts their first lead of the game and cap a rise from the dead worthy of Lazarus.
I wonder if anyone is still questioning Luck’s arm strength? (I’m looking at you Phil Simms.)
Manning’s shadow will always cover Luck, but he made his own place in Colts’ history Saturday. So many times in big playoff games, Manning fell short. Luck stood tall when it mattered most.
We might have a new postseason quarterback subplot between the Patriots and Colts — Brady vs. Manning now being followed by Brady vs. Luck, the same old script with a new young co-star.
If the Cincinnati Bengals lose today to the San Diego Chargers, then Luck and the Colts would be the Patriots’ opponent next Saturday night. Otherwise, it’s the Bengals coming to Gillette Stadium.
If this game reaffirmed one tenet of NFL life it’s that this is a quarterback league. The rest is fungible.
The Colts had no business being in this game after allowing 327 yards and 31 points to the Chiefs in the first half and 513 yards of offense overall. (The teams combined for a postseason record 1,049 yards.) Indy became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game in which they surrendered more than 40 points and committed four turnovers.
Luck, who finished 29 of 45 for 443 yards and four touchdowns, with 314 yards in the second half, willed the Colts to victory, just as their defense started forcing Kansas City into field goals.
Former Patriot Darius Butler was among the jubilant Colts celebrating in their locker room. He was asked if the Colts’ No. 12 (Luck) inspires the same confidence as another No. 12.
“Absolutely,” said Butler. “It seems like half the games since I’ve been here have been some kind of second-half comeback or fourth-quarter drive or something, so you kind of get that feeling that Andrew Luck never lost a game. Time only ran out. You have faith in that guy and that offense.”
Faith was all the Colts and their fans had left after their first play of the second half was an interception of Luck by Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah at the Colts’ 22, one of three Luck interceptions on the day.
Kansas City cashed in when Alex Smith (30 of 46, 378 yards) tossed his Chiefs-record fourth touchdown pass to make it 38-10 with 13:39 to go in the third quarter.
Winter Storm Ion, packing snow and sub-zero temperatures, was on its way to Indy, but the Colts had already been buried under inside the climate-controlled confines of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Meanwhile, Kansas City, looked to be on its way to winning its first playoff game since the 1994 calendar year, when another former 49er was their quarterback, Joe Montana. More impressively, they were going to do it without alpha dog running back Jamaal Charles, who was forced out of the game with a concussion on the first possession of the game.
Luck had other ideas. He guided the Colts to touchdowns on five of their remaining six possessions, not including the game-ending kneeldown.
Luck led the Colts to two quick touchdowns by running back Donald Brown to make it 38-24 with 7:32 to go in the third. The second score, a 3-yard reception, was set up when NFL sack leader Robert Mathis strip-sacked a scrambling Smith.
In a game full of moments that strained credulity and heartrates, the signature one was a play that combined all of Luck’s attributes — Stanford erudition, preternatural football instincts, and Olympic athleticism.
With Indianapolis trailing, 41-31, early in the fourth quarter, Brown fumbled on a second and goal from the 2. The ball popped up into the air and bounced off the helmet of Colts center Samson Satele. An alert Luck scooped it up at the 5 and launched himself into the end zone, extending like Superman in flight as he stretched the ball across the goal line.
“I just told him, I said, ‘All your touchdown passes and all that great stuff today. That was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen in my life,’ ’’ said Colts kicker and Patriot hero emeritus Adam Vinatieri. “That was so awesome. . . . It was pretty special.”
Everyone has a different definition of what constitutes an elite NFL quarterback. Luck is not in the class of Brady, Manning, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers. But give him time, and he will be.
“He is a special guy. He’s the type of guy that doesn’t come around very often,” said Vinatieri. “There are a lot of great quarterbacks in the league that can do all the throws and can manage a game, but he has got that competitive edge.
“It’s just fun to watch him work because you know that when he has got the ball, and we’ve got some time, amazing things are going to happen. He’s got that ‘it’ factor. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but he’s got it, for sure.”
Whatever “it” is, it’s the reason the Colts are advancing in the playoffs.
Sometimes all that matters is having Luck on your side.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.