The outcome was unforgettable for both sides, not that the Indianapolis Colts nor Kansas City Chiefs want to talk too much about it now.
Two years and 10 months removed from a classic comeback, down 38-10 in the third quarter, the Colts are quick to remind the last time doesn’t have any impact on when the Chiefs visit Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. The Chiefs, as much as they would like to forget blowing a four-touchdown lead in a 45-44 loss to the Colts in that AFC Wild Card playoff game, concede the game still hurts.
Colts owner Jim Irsay told his team afterward: “I don’t over exaggerate this. I have never in my almost 50 years (in the NFL) seen what I saw today.”
How much has changed since Jan. 4, 2014?
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who has since become the NFL’s highest-paid player, is off to the best seven-game start of his five-year NFL career, but his team is statistically worse with a 3-4 record and 28th-ranked defense. The Chiefs (4-2) have won two in a row, something the Colts have been unable to accomplish this season, but questions abound about whether head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith can take the next step with a 23rd-ranked defense and 19th-ranked offense after Kansas City was bounced from the AFC Divisional playoff round a year ago.
Rosters have changed dramatically in a short time. Just 13 Colts, including six starters, are still in Indianapolis. Just 11 Chiefs, including seven starters, are still in K.C.
What the Colts were reminded in that game is Luck always gives them a chance. When he recovered a Donald Brown fumble and scored on a memorable leap to the goal line, the image became a Sports Illustrated cover photo, an instant poster for fans and social-media meme with Luck wearing a super-imposed cape. Luck’s 64-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton provided the deciding touchdown as Adam Vinatieri kicked the all-important extra point with 4:21 remaining.
Luck has engineered 17 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his career, including all three wins this season. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano conceded the comeback against the Chiefs ranks No. 1.
Not that Luck had much to say about it Wednesday.
“I believe it was in the playoffs a couple years ago and it was a good win,” Luck said, prompting reporters to laugh at his brevity.
Reid and Smith had a little more to say on a conference call.
“He’s a tough kid,” Reid said of Luck. “He just takes one play at a time and fires away and that’s what he did. He took some big hits in that game, got back up and kept coming at you.”
Smith conceded he’s never been a part of a game like that in his 12-year NFL career.
“Not as far as (how) one sided as that got and then coming back in a playoff game and I’ve been part of a lot of crazy games,” Smith said, “but certainly, obviously, that one stings.”
Luck concedes the current Colts have been unable to achieve consistency; each game this season has had a margin of seven points or less in the fourth quarter. The current Chiefs have been embarrassed by 29 at Pittsburgh and lost by a touchdown at Houston but defeated San Diego, the New York Jets, Oakland and New Orleans by an average of 12.25 points.
Compared to last year, when the Chiefs started 1-5 before ripping off 10 consecutive wins to make the playoffs, they’re in a better place. Kansas City is just a half game behind Denver and Oakland in the AFC West. The Colts are one game behind the Texans in the AFC South.
“We’ve been fortunate in that area and don’t like to do it,” Pagano said of his team’s penchant for comebacks, which included a 34-26 win at Tennessee Sunday. “It’s not fun, it’s mentally and physically straining obviously, but any way you can win a game you try to do what you have to do.”
The NFL’s oldest player, Vinatieri can recall only one other comeback that ranks ahead of the Chiefs game, when the Colts rallied to defeat the New England Patriots 38-34 in an AFC Championship Game in 2007.
“I think that AFC Championship Game when we were down 21-6 to the Patriots, that was probably my favorite,” said the 43-year-old kicker, who just set an NFL record for his 43rd consecutive field goal. “But (the Chiefs game) was pretty good. Any time you’re in the playoffs and can get a win and advance and continue on, it’s a pretty impressive thing, especially the way we did it.”
Colts eighth-year cornerback Darius Butler will share that Chiefs game with others long after his playing days come to an end.
“That’s a story I can tell kids when I’m coaching or just to my kids, we were down, what, 38-10? Those types of things don’t happen every day,” he said.
But Luck told Kansas City media that Pagano doesn’t mention the previous Chiefs game. And the quarterback questioned the description that it was an iconic Colts win.
“I don’t know if it was an iconic one,” he said. “I just know it was a big win for us and it helped us advance. One more week in the playoffs, right? I think it was the first playoff win for a lot of us. It was the first one in my career, so that, obviously, was a special thing. But I told our guys today that were asking about it and the media, it has zero bearing on this year. It’s not frustrating to talk about, but to me, it doesn’t matter. It’s a moot point.”