INDIANAPOLIS – Andrew Luck smiles. He smiles often. He smiles on the field. He smiles around the Indianapolis Colts' facility. He smiles when he's on camera and when he's not. This is his default look.
His teammates warn against taking this the wrong way – the nearly ever-present smile does not reflect a lack of competitiveness from the quarterback. He's all business when it comes to business, constantly calling for focus, dutifully working through meetings and film sessions.
It's just it all comes through a smile – or wrapped self-deprecating jokes, or admissions that he's pretty much a nerd, or just walking around with that ridiculous neck beard he's currently sporting. He is who he is. He's not trying to fool anyone.
"He's very serious football-wise," Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. "But outside of that, he's very jovial."
Serious and jovial enough to walk into the halftime locker room Saturday, his Colts trailing the Chiefs 31-10 in an AFC wild-card game, and note to everyone that a comeback would need to occur one play at a time.
"There's no 21-point touchdowns," Luck told his teammates.
Serious and jovial enough that when the Kansas City lead ballooned to 38-10 in the third quarter, hopes seeming even fainter, he stood on the sideline and didn't bother coming up with a new pep talk. He told the exact same guys essentially the same thing.
"There's no 28-point touchdowns," Luck said.
They didn't laugh. They just agreed.
"I was just glad we didn't have to hear him say, 'there's no 35-point touchdowns,' " Castonzo said.
They wouldn't. A 28-point comeback was enough – the second largest in NFL playoff history. A roar-back, 45-44 Colts victory that was both improbable and quite probable, depending on how well you understood the culture of the Colts and the smiling assassin they trot out at quarterback.
Across an Indianapolis postgame locker room, where Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" worked in the background, there were no tales of shock or surprise, no one pointing to a single turning point or moment when doubt turned to belief. There was nothing but reaffirmation that this was always possible, always within the plan.
In the depths of a playoff humiliation, Andrew Luck added seven points to the exact same rallying cry and no one doubted its sincerity. These are the Colts. Too young, too positive, too confident, too naïve, too whatever it is to doubt. And why wouldn't they believe him?
"I don't think anything changed," Luck said of the furious second-half comeback. "Stop throwing interceptions?"
He actually even threw one more of those (his third of the game) and the fact that not even that rattled him is the story of this comeback.
In Kansas City, and perhaps beyond, this will be seen as a collapse, the continuation of a 20-year playoff victory drought for the Chiefs. There were mistakes, of course. It wasn't a collapse though. At least it wasn't exclusively a collapse.
This was the work of the Colts. This was Andrew Luck's Colts being Andrew Luck's Colts. The NFL might as well get used to it.
"New Colts football," wide receiver LaVon Brazil said. "Grit, baby."
No matter how deep a hole they found themselves in, he just kept chucking it and chucking it and chucking it – often to T.Y. Hilton who had 13 grabs for 224 yards and two touchdowns, including the 64-yard game-winner. That was a big-time play, but it came with 4:21 left, meaning a 28-point comeback courtesy of five touchdowns actually was accomplished too quickly.
"Scored too fast," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said he thought on the sideline. "You think I'm kidding?"
The defense held though and most of the final two minutes were left to a victory formation. And more smiles, only this time when they made the most sense.
"Yeah, when you're taking a knee," Luck said. "Or when T.Y. is running free."
Luck finished with 443 passing yards and four touchdown throws. There were also those three interceptions. It was a roller coaster. "It felt like I was trying to lose the game for us," he said.
Then there were his 45 rushing yards, the wildest 5 coming when a potentially back-breaking Donald Brown fourth-quarter, goal-line fumble bounced right into his arms and he had the presence of mind to promptly turn up field and dive over the line and into the end zone.
"That was one of the greatest plays I've ever seen," said Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Luck is 24 years old, in his second season out of Stanford, and this was his first playoff victory. Yet there is no hesitation around here about not just how good he will be but how good he already is. Vinatieri played with Tom Brady in New England and Peyton Manning here in Indy and he doesn't blink at the too-soon comparisons.
"He's a special guy," Vinatieri said. "He's a guy that doesn't come along very often. There's a lot of quarterbacks in the league that can make the throws. He has that competitive edge …
"It seems like nothing ever bothers him," Vinatieri continued. "It can be a play that doesn't work out for us, those interceptions. He just shakes it off and throws bullets down the field. I don't think you can rattle him."
Luck and the Colts will face off against either Brady or Manning next week. It's like a generational clash, the new guy coming strong and stronger as the old guard tries to maintain his spot for as long as he can. The Colts will be underdogs. It may not yet be their time.
The ascension is inevitable though. The future is obvious. What went down here Saturday ahead of a big storm wasn't just a playoff victory, wasn't just a wild comeback, wasn't just another NFL shootout.
This is what Andrew Luck was made to do – a perfect combination of temperament and tenacity, cool and calm and competitiveness with an arm that will dice up a secondary, leading a team of guys who think much like he does.
Luck and the Colts may have shocked the NFL, may have shocked the fans, and may have shock the Chiefs.
They just didn't shock themselves.
"We did the stuff we practiced," Luck said.
He was smiling. But he was serious, dead serious.
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