By TOM JAMES CNHI NEWS SERVICE
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Just when it looked like the Indianapolis Colts were going to be blown out at home in an AFC wild-card playoff game by the Kansas City Chiefs, the impossible happened.
Trailing 31-10 at halftime and 38-10 early in the third quarter, the Colts mounted the third-largest comeback in National Football League history and the second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history en route to an improbable, you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it 45-44 win Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With quarterback Andrew Luck catching fire in the second half, a young Indianapolis squad took a huge step in their development with the huge comeback victory. Kansas City looked to be in control throughout. And they were.
But Luck — who had three interceptions in the game — kept willing the Colts onward. And onward they went. Depending on what happens today in Cincinnati’s wild-card game with San Diego, a second matchup with Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos could very well be in the offing.
A Bengals win pits Indianapolis against the Broncos in Denver on Sunday. A San Diego victory and the Colts will be traveling to Gillette Stadium for a Saturday meeting with the New England Patriots.
But without the big plays by Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, running back Donald Brown along with a defense, it wouldn’t have happened.
The second-year Indianapolis quarterback completed 29-of-45 passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns. Hilton caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two TDs. Brown had 55 yards rushing with one rushing touchdown and had four catches for 54 and a TD.
“Everybody stepped up. Just about everybody on offense had two or three big plays,” Luck said afterward. “To make it a one-score game [late in the fourth quarter] was big. We knew coming in against [Kansas City’s] defense it would be tough to get yards.
“We did the stuff we practiced. If we could limit turning the ball over and we could limit our penalties, we knew that we had a chance. But we’ll enjoy this game for what it is. We don’t want the journey to end next weekend.”
Kansas City’s Alex Smith connected on 30-of-46 passes for 378 yards and four touchdowns. Smith also ran eight times for 57 yards. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was a handful, catching eight passes for 150 yards and a TD.
Running back Jamaal Charles left the game in the first quarter with a concussion. Backup running back Knile Davis later left with a knee injury. Outside linebacker Justin Houston, who had been fighting injuries in recent weeks, also left early.
The game became a battle of attrition. Cornerback Greg Toler struggled early after trying to play with a groin injury that was suffered earlier in the season. Toler gave up a pair of long passes, one going for a touchdown.
Indianapolis and Kansas City combined for 58 first downs and 1,049 yards in total offense. The Colts finished with 28 first downs and 536 yards of offense.
Kansas City took a 31-10 lead into the locker room at halftime. Touchdown passes from Smith to receivers Bowe (6 yards) and Donnie Avery (79 yards), a 5-yard flip to fullback Anthony Sherman, and a 4-yard run by Davis, along with a 19-yard field goal by placekicker Ryan Succop, gave the Chiefs the 21-point first-half advantage.
The Colts scored on their opening drive, with Luck firing a 10-yard pass to Hilton, and later added a 37-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
That Chiefs lead jumped to 38-10 on a 10-yard pass to Davis early in the third quarter. Then the fun started.
A 10-yard run by Brown, followed by a 3-yard TD catch by Brown, brought Indianapolis back to within 38-24. After a 42-yard field goal by Succop made it 41-24, Lick fired a 12-yard scoring pass to tight end Coby Fleener.
Down by 10, 41-31, Luck picked up a fumble by Brown near the Kansas City goal line and took it in from five-yards out with 10:38 left in the game.
A third Succop field goal, a 43-yard kick with 5:36 remaining, pushed the Chiefs lead again to 44-38.
Then the biggest play of the game. On a third-and-five at the Indianapolis 36-yard line, Luck hooked up with Hilton on a 64-yard touchdown pass with 4:21 remaining in the game.
The Colts defense managed to finish it out. But it wasn’t without some trepidation. Kansas City moved the ball to the Indianapolis 43-yard line but their potential game-winning drive came up short as Smith’s fourth-down pass to Bowe was incomplete out of bounds inside the Colts 20-yard line.
FINAL Chiefs 44 Colts 45 Next: Colts visit New England or Denver Sunday.