DETROIT -- Donnie Avery was the fifth option on the Indianapolis Colts' final play from scrimmage. When quarterback Andrew Luck scrambled to his right, Avery became the Colts' only option.
Reflecting the Colts' improbable season, Avery turned out to be Indianapolis' best option.
Luck threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Avery as the game clock expired, giving the Colts a miraculous 35-33 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field Sunday. Luck found Avery open at the 8-yard line as he cut across the field on the 4th-and-10 play. Avery scampered into the end zone to complete an 11-play, 75-yard drive as the Colts (8-4) erased a 12-point deficit and won for the sixth time in seven games.
"It was a clutch catch and a clutch throw," said Avery, who also caught a first-half touchdown pass. "I thought he was going to run it, actually, and he dished it off to me. I had no choice but to score."
Luck won a shootout with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, passing for 391 yards and four touchdowns, though he was also picked off three times. Luck had thrown just four touchdown passes, compared to 10 interceptions, in Indianapolis' first five road games.
Just another inspiring effort by the Colts as head coach Chuck Pagano continues to fight cancer.
"There's no script. They don't write a book on how to handle this situation," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who is filling in for Pagano. "Our guys are doing everything they can. They show the true fight that our coach has. They won't quit but we're just putting ourselves in a position to do something special. We really haven't done anything yet."
Stafford passed for 313 yards and two touchdowns but Detroit (4-8) has lost four straight. Calvin Johnson caught 13 passes for 171 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter.
The snakebit Lions haven't lost by more than 10 points and their last three have been excruciating. They lost on a late touchdown pass to Green Bay and fell in overtime to Houston before their latest collapse.
"Disappointed," Stafford said of the season. "I mean obviously you show up every Sunday expecting to win and we played a lot of parts of this game well enough to do that. For one reason or another, it didn't happen."
Detroit led by nine at halftime but Vick Ballard's 11-yard scoring run pulled the Colts within 23-21 early in the third. The Lions reestablished the nine-point lead with two seconds remaining in the quarter. Stafford scrambled to his right and found Johnson, who beat the one-on-one coverage of Vontae Davis and made a diving catch at the goal line.
"Our guys covered him as well as he could be covered and he still made catches," Arians said of Johnson. "We just kept battling and tried to keep them out of the end zone. We did a great job of making them kick field goals and keeping the game within reach."
Joique Bell's 67-yard run set up Jason Hanson's fourth field goal, a 31-yarder that gave the Lions a 33-21 lead with 8:41 remaining. Luck closed the gap to 33-28 with 2:39 remaining by connecting with LaVon Brazill on a 42-yard scoring play. The Lions were unable to run out the clock on their final possession, setting up Luck's heroics.
Stafford didn't throw a pass on the drive, as the coaching staff opted to play it safe.
"We did the right things," Stafford said. "It was a group effort out there as far as what we were going to do and how we were going to attack it. There's plays all over the field that could have changed this one."
Hanson made three first-half field goals, giving the Lions a 23-14 halftime advantage. He connected from 33 and 52 yards in the second quarter after Luck's second scoring pass, a 26-yarder to tight end Coby Fleener.
NOTES: Johnson tied an NFL record with 125 or more receiving yards for the fifth straight game. Ex-Lion Pat Studstill set the record in 1966. ... Fleener's scoring reception was the first of his career. ... Hanson has made 52 field goals of 50 yards or more, the most in NFL history. ... Stafford reached 1,000 completions for his career, the third Detroit quarterback to reach that mark. ... Lions left tackle Jeff Backus returned to the starting lineup after missing the Thanksgiving Day loss to Houston with a hamstring injury. Backus made a franchise-record 186 consecutive starts prior to the one-game absence. ... Wide receiver Titus Young, criticized by management and teammates for his poor attitude, was deactivated for the second straight game while rookie wideout Ryan Broyles injured his knee in the opening quarter and did not return. Colts starting safety Tom Zbikowski was sidelined by a knee injury while offensive linemen Joe Reitz and Winston Justice suffered concussions during the game.