When the Kansas City Chiefs scored 1:21 into the second half, they led 38-10 and there was nothing about the NFL's playoff opener that indicated it would become a classic.
Hope you stuck around.
The Colts came back from 28 points down in a thriller that had 1,049 combined yards, a record for an NFL playoff game, and won 45-44 in one of the greatest playoff games of all time.
The second half was incredible. The Colts, led by precocious quarterback Andrew Luck and his 443 yards, staged a comeback that people will talk about for years. Only one time has an NFL team overcome a deficit larger than 28 points to win a game, and that was in January of 1993 when the Bills beat the Oilers in a playoff game after trailing by 32. In January of 2003, the San Francisco 49ers came back to beat the New York Giants after trailing by 24 points, and that had been the second greatest playoff comeback ever, until Saturday.
The Colts made many mistakes to dig a huge hole, but after the Chiefs kicked a field goal with 5:36 left, the Colts got the ball back trailing 44-38 with a chance to win.
Luck completed a big third-down pass to Coby Fleener to keep the drive alive. Then T.Y. Hilton just ran past the defense and Luck threw a dart to hit him deep downfield for a 64-yard touchdown with 4:21 remaining. It was a brilliant pass, one of many by Luck. No matter what Luck does over the rest of his career – and he has a lot ahead of him – that amazing throw to Hilton will be one of his biggest highlights. Hilton had 224 receiving yards, the third-best mark in a playoff game in NFL history.
And the Colts, once down by four touchdowns, had the lead.
Kansas City drove into Colts territory, but a huge play by the defense turned the game. On a second down, a blitz got to quarterback Alex Smith, and he threw the ball away just before he was hit. The intentional grounding call moved the Chiefs back to a third-and-17. The third-down play didn't get enough yardage to try a field goal. On fourth-and-11, Smith threw deep to Dwayne Bowe, but Bowe's right foot landed out of bounds just after he got the first one in. The Colts took possession, and took a knee three times to run out the clock.
When Donald Brown fumbled near the goal line in the fourth quarter, but Luck scooped up the fumble and plowed into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown to cut the Chiefs' lead to 41-38, you knew this game had reached the point of insanity.
The Chiefs had major injury issues. Do-everything running back Jamaal Charles suffered a concussion on the first drive. His backup, Knile Davis, was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Justin Houston, cornerback Brandon Flowers and receiver Donnie Avery dropped out of the game with injuries as well.
Luck's second-half heroics will overshadow how great Smith was in the face of all those Chiefs injuries. He had a career-best 378 yards and a Chiefs record four touchdowns. With Charles out for all but a few plays, Smith put the offense on his back. Even as the Chiefs' defense, which slumped badly over the second half of the season, gave up chunks of yards to Luck and the Colts, Smith kept the offense moving and almost pulled off his own great comeback at the end.
The Colts move on to the second round, to either New England (if the Chargers win on Sunday) or to Denver (if the Bengals beat the Chargers ... and wouldn't a Colts-Broncos rematch be something?). It didn't seem possible that the Colts would be in that position when they were down by 28 points early in the second half, but it's becoming apparent that if Luck is playing, you don't want to turn the game off no matter what the score is.
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