(Reuters) - Andrew Luck tossed four touchdowns as the Indianapolis Colts kicked off the National Football League post-season with a pulsating 45-44 comeback wild-card win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.
Trailing 38-10 in the third quarter, the AFC South champions climbed off the ropes led by Luck, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another to end the Chiefs' Cinderella season and send the Colts through to the divisional round against either the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots.
"Obviously an incredible victory, a great team victory, one for the ages. I've never seen anything quite like it," Colts coach Chuck Pagano told reporters. "Twenty-one points at the half wasn't enough so we thought we would give them another seven just to make it interesting."
The Chiefs, a league worst 2-14 a year ago had looked poised to claim their first playoff win in 20 years until Luck, the former-number one overall pick, went to work, engineering one of the all-time NFL playoff comebacks. Only two teams have ever rallied from 28-point deficits to get the win.
It marked the eighth consecutive post-season defeat for the Chiefs, breaking the record they had shared with the Detroit Lions.
Luck had look more the goat than the hero after tossing three interceptions but recovered with three second-half touchdown passes, including a 64-yard strike to T.Y. Hilton with just over four minutes to play to give the Colts their first lead of the day at 45-44.
"It was a total team effort - defensively, special teams, offensively," said Luck, who completed 29 of 45 attempts for 443 yards in his first career post-season win. "We never panicked, played it one play at a time.
"It felt like for a moment out there I was trying to lose the game for us. I felt like I was letting the team down.
"I'm happy that they stuck by me and trusted in me. Guys stepped up, everybody stepped up."
The game was a tale of two halves with the Chiefs dominating the opening two quarters and the Colts the last two, outscoring Kansas City 35-13.
Chiefs hopes for a win looked bleak early when running back Jamaal Charles, a league most valuable player candidate, was knocked out of the contest with a possible concussion.
But with Charles in the locker room being evaluated, the Chiefs completed an impressive 82-yard opening drive, Alex Smith finding Dwayne Bowe for a six-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Colts answered right back, Luck enjoying a perfect start to the contest, hitting all seven passes including a 10-yard touchdown strike to Hilton.
The rest of the first half, however, was dominated by the Chiefs, Smith tossing three of his four touchdown passes.
Kansas City seized control by scoring a pair of touchdowns in opening two minutes of the second quarter to race in front 24-7 and leave the Indy crowd stunned.
First, Smith spotted Donnie Avery wide open in behind the Indianapolis secondary and unloaded a 79-yard bomb to the speedster.
The Kansas City defense set up another score, forcing a Trent Richardson fumble on the Indianapolis 17 and the Chiefs quickly made the Colts pay, Anthony Sherman hauling in a five-yard shuttle pass from Smith.
After a Colts field goal, the Chiefs wrapped up a spectacular first half with Charles' backup Knile Davis diving over from the four to give the visitors a commanding 31-10 advantage going into the intermission.
Luck opened the second half throwing his second interception and again the Chiefs capitalized, Davis collecting his second touchdown grabbing a 10-yard pass.
But the Chiefs offense would only add a pair of Ryan Succop field goals the rest of the way as the momentum swung to the Colts.
Donald Brown ran for a touchdown and pulled in a three-yard Luck pass for another.
Luck also ran in for a score and Coby Fleener caught another touchdown.
"Compliments to Colts for coming back," said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. "They did a nice job in the second half. They deserved to win for the way that they played."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Gene Cherry)