INDIANAPOLIS – The Chiefs were good for three quarters, but Colts quarterback Andrew Luck proved better when it mattered.
Facing a 38-10 deficit early in the third quarter, Luck engineered the second-largest comeback in postseason history.
He completed the 45-44 comeback win in the fourth quarter with a 64-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
“Obviously, incredible, incredible victory,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano told reporters during his postgame media session. “Great team victory; one for the ages.”
Still, the Chiefs were clearly a different team from the one that faced the Colts just three weeks ago.
Kansas City scored on its first five possessions to take a 31-10 halftime lead and all the momentum.
“It’s a combination of coaches putting us in great situations and guys making plays,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith of the team’s ability to start fast. “I felt like we did get into a rhythm in that sense moving the ball on first and second downs, converting on third downs, and there in the red zone we were pretty good there early.”
Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe got the Chiefs on the board first with a 6-yard touchdown reception. The scoring play capped off an efficient 14-play, 82-yard opening drive, but the Chiefs also lost running back Jamaal Charles to a concussion on the series.
Luck matched the Chiefs’s score on the subsequent possession, marching the Colts to a touchdown when he found Hilton on a 10-yard pass.
The Chiefs got a 19-yard field goal from Ryan Succop on the next possession and went up 17-7 early in the second quarter when Smith found wide receiver Donnie Avery on a 79-yard touchdown pass.
The scoring binge continued after Colts running back Trent Richardson lost a fumble and the Chiefs put another seven points on the board after Smith found fullback Anthony Sherman for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
The Colts got a 37-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri as a sign of resistance, but the Chiefs continued to impose their will after a Colts score.
Chiefs rookie running back Knile Davis punctuated a 15-play, 81-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown to put the Chiefs up 31-10 at halftime.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs dominated the first half, amassing 327 total yards to the Colts’ 164.
And the domination appeared to continue in the second half after Chiefs defensive back Husain Abdullah picked off Luck.
The Chiefs took advantage of that turnover to go up 38-10 after Smith found Davis for a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.
Smith finished the game completing 30-of-46 passes for 378 yards and four touchdowns, adding 57 yards rushing on eight carries. His 378 yards made him the second quarterback in team history to pass for 300 yards in a playoff game.
But Smith’s accomplishments aside, the wheels came off for the Chiefs after his final touchdown pass.
“You have to give them credit,” Chiefs inside linebacker Akeem Jordan said. “They made plays; we didn’t make enough.”
Colts running back Donald Brown started the comeback with a 1-yard touchdown run, and the turning point of the game arguably could’ve happened on the Chiefs’ next series.
With the Chiefs driving into Colts territory, Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis got a sack on Smith and forced a fumble, which linebacker Kelvin Sheppard recovered.
Luck then found Brown for another touchdown to close what appeared to be an insurmountable lead to 38-24.
Still, the Chiefs appeared to regain some semblance of momentum after Abdullah picked off Luck a second time.
But in a game where it became evident touchdowns were needed, the Chiefs could only muster a 42-yard field goal from Succop to push the lead to 41-24 with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter.
“Our defense came back with a turnover and we ended up kicking a field goal instead of punching it in for a touchdown, which would’ve helped,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said during his postgame media session. “We need to do a better job in the second half in all three phases, coaches included.”
The Colts closed out the third quarter on another Luck touchdown pass, this one to tight end Coby Fleener to cut the lead to 41-31.
Luck finished the game completing 29-of-45 passes for 443 yards and three touchdowns, adding 45 yards rushing and a touchdown on seven attempts.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis turned the tables on the Chiefs first half domination, outgaining the Chiefs 206 yards to 81 in the third quarter.
And when a team is hot, the ball seems to bounce their way, much like it did early in the fourth quarter.
Chiefs safety Eric Berry forced a Brown fumble, which bounced to Luck, who then dove over defenders for a 5-yard touchdown run to get the Colts within 41-38 score.
“I think down there on the goal line and we lost that ball and Andrew picks it up and finds a way,” Pagano said. “Only like Andrew Luck can do and scores a touchdown, that was incredible.”
The Chiefs got a 43-yard field goal from Succop for the team’s final point and a short-lived 44-38 lead.
But with nothing going wrong for the Colts in the second half, the next series was virtually inevitable.
On first-and-10 at the Colts’ 36-yard line, Luck dropped back, stepped into the pocket and found a streaking Hilton, who split safeties Quintin Demps and Kendrick Lewis.
Luck had a big day, but so did Hilton, who turned in a team postseason record with 224 yards receiving on 13 catches. He totaled two touchdowns on the day.
“Not much to say, compliments to the Colts for coming back,” Reid said. “They did a nice job. Thirty-five points in the second half. We started kicking field goal and they started scoring touchdowns, but they deserve the win for the way they played.”
Notes: The Colts and Chiefs finished with 1,049 combined yards, marking a new NFL postseason record (1,038 the previous record) … The Colts became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game after allowing 40 points and committing four turnovers … The Chiefs lost five players on the game: Running back Jamaal Charles (concussion), wide receiver Donnie Avery (concussion), cornerback Brandon Flowers (concussion), running back Knile Davis (knee) and linebacker Justin Houston (leg).