The Colts have had a proud history of improbable comebacks: The Monday Night Miracle in Tampa. Sage Rosenfelds’ failed helicopter dive. 4th and 2 against the Patriots. All equally miraculous, and all defying rational explanation. Of all the accolades that Peyton Manning earned during his tenure in Indianapolis, perhaps his most infamous trait – his calling card – was the way his Colts’ teams were never out of a game.
Yesterday's comeback ranks amongst the best in Indy history
Maybe Andrew Luck’s team is developing that same characteristic.
Yesterday’s 35-33 win over Detroit falls into the same category as the trio above. Despite being battered like a piñata for three and a half quarters, Luck found a way to drive the Colts 85 yards in 92 seconds, followed by a 75-yard drive in 67 seconds. The Colts scored 14 points and went 160 yards in just over two and a half minutes to turn a game that Indy had a 99% chance of losing into a victory.
The reality is that the Colts, who are 7-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less, are a handful of plays away from being 2-10. On the season, they’ve been outscored by 41 points. They’ve beaten the Lions, Bills, Dolphins, Titans, and Browns (combined record of 22-38) by a total of 22 points. They entered this week 28th in DVOA, and dead last in Defensive DVOA. By just about any statistical measure (advanced or traditional), the Colts should be far out of the playoff hunt; a rebuilding team looking to build a foundation in its first year under a developing rookie quarterback.
But, they’re not. They’re 8-4 and on the verge of getting back to the postseason for the tenth time in the last eleven seasons.
So, why are they here?
They’re here because they have a quarterback in Andrew Luck that can make the plays that turn losses into wins - the kind of quarterback that can overcome a shoddy offensive line, and a porous defense. According to Scott Kacsmar of Captain Comeback, yesterday was Luck's third game in which he threw for at least 350 yards and led a game-winning drive. Luck is 6-1 in game-winning drives, and the lone loss came when the defense blew as assignment on Cecil Shorts's long touchdown grab in a Week 3 loss to Jacksonville.
I’ve tried to avoid throwing all the praise strictly on the quarterback in the past, but who else can claim the lion’s share (no pun intended) of responsibility for the improbable success of this season? The Colts might not beat Green Bay without Reggie Wayne, or Buffalo without T.Y. Hilton, but do they beat anybody at all without #12? Luck makes mistakes (21 turnovers in a dozen games this season), but he often overcomes them. He’s a rookie, and every once in awhile, he reminds you of that fact. But, at the same time, he shows flashes of the kind of player that he may become, the same way that Manning did early in his career.
Say what you want about the Colts beating up on mediocre competition, or being a product of a down AFC. Point to the statistical superiority of Robert Griffin III, and rip apart Luck for his turnovers and QB Rating, if you choose. The Colts and Luck don’t have to apologize for any of that. 8-4 is 8-4, and the quarterback is the key figure in that mark.
He likely won’t win the MVP award, but there isn’t anyone more valuable to his team than Luck.