INDIANAPOLIS — Two quarterbacks taken with the first overall pick — one of them considered the NFL’s best prospect in years and the other a player who endured years of ridicule as a potential bust — faced one another on the NFL’s playoff stage Saturday evening and put on the kind of show that anyone could have asked.
No, it was better than that, actually.
In one of the most spectacular and dramatic playoff games in NFL history, the Colts came back from a 38-10 deficit to beat the Chiefs, 45-44, at Lucas Oil Stadium. Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, rallied the Colts with a stirring second-half comeback to outlast the Chiefs and Alex Smith, the oft-maligned first overall pick in 2005.
Luck threw the winning pass — a 64-yarder to second-year wide receiver T.Y. Hilton — with 4:21 to play, giving the Colts their first lead of the game. It was all they needed to advance to the divisional playoffs.
The game was reminiscent of Buffalo’s comeback from a 35-3 deficit at home in the 1992 playoffs. They wound up winning that game, 41-38, in overtime behind backup quarterback Frank Reich.
This one came close, but not before Smith launched the Chiefs to what seemed an insurmountable lead. Smith paid the kind of dividends the Chiefs had hoped for when they traded for him in the offseason, although he didn’t quite complete the job thanks to Luck’s second-half heroics. Forced out of San Francisco with the emergence last year of Colin Kaepernick, Smith performed brilliantly at Luck’s home stadium, passing for 378 yards and four touchdowns.
Smith’s brilliance was especially important in light of the injury to Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, who suffered a concussion on the Chiefs’ opening drive and did not return. He was replaced by rookie Knile Davis, who got his first significant playing time against the Chargers last week. Davis wound up leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.
Smith was clearly the star of the offense, as he drove the Chiefs to a touchdown on their first drive and kept pouring it on from there. His 63-yard pass to Dwayne Bowe set up a field goal on his next drive to make it 10-7, and he widened the score to 17-7 on a 79-yard pass to Donnie Avery on a post route early in the second quarter.
Trent Richardson fumbled the kickoff after Avery’s touchdown, and Smith scrambled up the middle and hit fullback Anthony Sherman with a backhand 5-yard flip pass for a touchdown to make it 24-7.
Before halftime, Smith drove the Chiefs 81 yards in 15 plays to make it 31-10, as Davis scored up the middle on a 4-yard run.
Luck gave Smith yet another easy opportunity in the early going of the second half, as Luck’s first pass was intercepted by Husain Abdullah. Smith converted it into another touchdown to make it 38-10, as he hit Davis on a 10-yard scoring pass down the right side.
But Luck came roaring back to lead the epic comeback. He led a five-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Donald Brown’s 10-yard run to make it 38-17, and Brown scored again on a 3-yard pass from Luck to close the gap to 38-24.
Ryan Succop’s 42-yard field goal gave the Chiefs a 41-24 advantage, but Luck came up with another big drive, finishing off an 80-yard march with a 12-yard scoring strike to tight end Coby Fleener.
Luck scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, recovering Brown’s fumble near the goal line and running it in from the 5. After a 43-yard field goal by Succop, Luck then completed the comeback with his 64-yard strike to Hilton, who got behind the Chiefs’ last defender and raced home for the score. Adam Vinatieri’s extra point gave the Colts the lead and the eventual win, as the Colts stopped the Chiefs on downs on their next — and final — drive.