Andrew Luck's comeback, a rookie coach, a 1-5 start ... Colts' playoff berth is incredible

On October 14, the Indianapolis Colts lost 42-34 to the New York Jets. They were 1-5 after that loss.

A quick scan of NFL history tells you the long odds Indianapolis faced at that point. Only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals and 2015 Kansas City Chiefs had gone from 1-5 to the playoffs. But it was even deeper than that.

The Colts had quarterback Andrew Luck coming back after a lost season due to shoulder surgery. Frank Reich was a rookie head coach, and famously not Indianapolis’ first choice. Reich’s offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators had never been coordinators in the NFL before. The roster had some interesting young talent, but there were obvious holes too. The Colts looked like the type of team that might contend for the first overall pick, not the postseason.

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Somehow, the Colts became the NFL’s 12th playoff team, the last one to clinch as they handled the Tennessee Titans 33-17 on “Sunday Night Football” to close out the regular season. They’re the No. 6 seed in the AFC and will play on Saturday afternoon at the Houston Texans.

Every season has a surprise playoff team or two. This season, the Chicago Bears shocked everyone to win the NFC North. The Philadelphia Eagles seemed dead at 6-7, and they rallied to make the postseason. But the Colts have to be the most surprising playoff entry of 2018.

Colts go on the road to beat the Titans

The Colts caught a break in the finale. The Titans played without quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was inactive after suffering a stinger last week. Tennessee had to turn to Blaine Gabbert. But it’s not like anyone felt bad for the Colts last season when they were without Luck.

Indianapolis got off to a quick 14-0 lead on a pair of Luck touchdown passes. Luck then threw a bad pick-six that got the Titans back in the game. Why would anything come too easy for these Colts?

Indianapolis led 24-17 in the fourth quarter and the Titans had the ball when cornerback Kenny Moore picked off Gabbert with a little more than nine minutes left. That set up a field goal by Adam Vinatieri with 3:55 left that essentially sealed the Colts’ win and a playoff berth.

The Titans had very little offense with Gabbert at quarterback. But credit the Colts defense, which has been much better than expected under coordinator Matt Eberflus.

Colts got on a tear after 1-5 start

Luck was the key to the Colts making it back to the playoffs. He has played near an MVP level most of the season. Reich proved to be a great hire, after the Colts were left at the alter by Josh McDaniels. That was a franchise-changing stroke of luck, as it turned out. Indianapolis’ offensive line, for a long time a weakness, came together and became a strength. The Colts have had a ton of contributions from a fine rookie class, which is a great sign for the future. Free agents like tight end Eric Ebron ended up being important pieces.

A lot of things had to come together for the Colts to win nine of 10 after a bad start and make the playoffs. The Colts have a big challenge in their first playoff game against a Texans team that also got hot after a bad start to make the playoffs. But Indianapolis did win 24-21 at Houston on Dec. 9.

It doesn’t matter all that much what the Colts do in the playoffs. Just getting there, given all their obstacles, was a monumental feat. And with Luck healthy again, Reich looking like a fantastic hire and a lot of good young players on the roster, it probably isn’t the last time this Colts core makes the playoffs.

Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron, left, celebrates a touchdown with Quenton Nelson (56) and T.Y. Hilton (13). (AP)
Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron, left, celebrates a touchdown with Quenton Nelson (56) and T.Y. Hilton (13). (AP)

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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