INDIANAPOLIS -- Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts' offense struggled to find their rhythm Sunday, but they delivered the drive they needed.
Luck's timing finally arrived on an 87-yard, third-quarter drive as the Colts found some breathing room for a 20-13 win over the Buffalo Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Luck completed 20 of 37 passes for 240 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Colts rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton scored on a punt return and a touchdown catch, and Reggie Wayne caught eight passes for 102 yards.
The Colts (7-4) improved their position for a wild-card playoff berth.
The Bills (4-7) received 107 yards on 14 carries by running back C.J. Spiller.
With Indianapolis leading 13-6 in the third quarter, Luck directed a 15-play drive that was capped by an eight-yard touchdown pass to Hilton. Luck completed four third-down passes in the drive: two to Wayne, one to Donnie Avery and the touchdown pass to Hilton to make it 20-6. Hilton had left the game with a blow to the head earlier, but was cleared by doctors to return.
"That was definitely our best drive of the game," Luck said. "We need more of those drives. As an offense, we realize that. When we needed it most, we got that drive. We ended with a four-minute drive (to run out the clock), and we need more of those kinds of drives."
The scoring drive gave the Colts the breathing room they needed, although Buffalo came right back to make it a one-score game again early in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bills 78 yards and hit second-year tight end Lee Smith on a one-yard scoring pass to close the gap to 20-13 with 11:30 left.
The Bills had a chance to tie the game after Colts safety Tom Zbikowski intercepted a pass, then fumbled the ball back to Buffalo while trying to stiff-arm Bills receiver Stevie Johnson. However, the Indianapolis defense held on big plays by linebacker Jerrell Freeman and cornerback Cassius Vaughn.
"We just treated that like any other sudden change," Freeman said. "You just have to go out there and get a stop."
Colts coach Chuck Pagano attended the game and was shown on the big screen in the fourth quarter, earning a standing ovation from fans. Pagano undergoes his third and final chemotherapy treatment for leukemia this week. His cancer is in remission.
"Chuck was here and our goal was to make him smile when he left," Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. "I'm sure he's up there (in the owner's suite) smiling."
The Bills felt they had gained some momentum late in the game, but their inability to drive for a game-tying score left them regrouping again afterward.
Fitzpatrick thought the Bills had the big play they needed when Johnson recovered the Zbikowski fumble.
"That was disappointing," Fitzpatrick said. "It was a heck of a play by Stevie to get the ball back. We had some enthusiasm and some excitement in the huddle. But we couldn't get it done."
Coming off a 35-point loss at New England, the Colts sputtered on their first offensive possession. But the Indianapolis defense forced a punt (after a sack by Freeman), and Hilton returned the punt 75 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 9:56 left in the first quarter.
Buffalo drew within 7-3 on a 65-yard drive, with Rian Lindell kicking a 33-yard field goal with 4:28 left in the first quarter.
Luck had one of the worst starts of his rookie season, completing only three of his first nine passes for 29 yards and an interception. He started to recover his usual form after that, directing an 82-yard drive, with Adam Vinatieri kicking a 25-yard field goal to put the Colts up 10-3 with 4:08 left in the half. Luck completed three of five passes for 54 yards in the drive.
The Colts' defense gave up a big 63-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Johnson but clamped down and held the Bills to a field goal that made it 10-6 with 2:16 left in the half.
Luck drove the Colts 50 yards in five plays in the final 32 seconds of the half for another Vinatieri field goal and a 13-6 lead at the break.
NOTES: Wayne broke Cris Carter's NFL record with his 59th consecutive game with three or more receptions. ... Luck became the second Colts rookie to throw for 3,000 yards in a season, joining Peyton Manning in the team's record book. ... Fitzpatrick and Johnson need to connect on four more touchdown passes this season to move into second place on the team list behind Jim Kelly and Andre Reed. However, they'd still be 40 touchdowns behind the Kelly-Reed combo.