DETROIT – On the play of the year so far, Donnie Avery felt like he was running in slow motion, the end zone so close yet so far away.
An improbable comeback by the Indianapolis Colts was mere yards from happening. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who hadn't played particularly well until the end, scrambled and found Avery – the fifth option – on the game's final play.
“My face was down and I was praying,” Colts defensive end Cory Redding said. “I saw my teammates jump up and down and I hit the ground.”
Avery caught Luck's pass, sliced through the secondary and scored with no time left as the Colts beat the Detroit Lions 35-33 on Sunday at Ford Field.
“I ran around a little bit to open up a window,” Luck said. “You always hesitate to throw the ball when it's not in the end zone for fear of the clock running out. It happened in the Georgia (vs. Alabama) game the night before.”
But Luck had gone through his first four options in the back of the end zone and saw Avery cutting across as the “outlet” receiver.
The result was the end of an 11-play, 75-yard drive in the game's final 1:07 to give the Colts (8-4) their eighth win and build further on a logic-defying season.
The Colts had trailed 33-21 on Luck's third interception with 6:40 left in the game. He directed two scoring drives in the final 4:02 to make the Colts 7-1 in games decided by one score. Luck ran for a first down on a fourth-down play on the first late-scoring drive, and hit LaVon Brazill with a 42-yard touchdown pass with 2:39 left to draw within 33-28.
The Colts defense forced one final punt to set up the game-winner.
When it looked like the Colts were out of it, down two scores and time dwindling, interim coach Bruce Arians said just the right words to Luck.
The Colts had no timeouts left as Luck directed the final drive, hitting Reggie Wayne for a first down, running for a first down, finding tight end Dwayne Allen for a first down. He nearly threw a game-winner to Wayne before the 4th-and-10 touchdown to Avery.
“Go make a play to win the game,” Arians said he told Luck. “You didn't lose the game. You put us in a rough spot, but you didn't lose the game. We have a chance to win the game, go win it for us.”
Luck completed 24 of 54 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns.
Detroit (4-8) seemingly had the game in hand, thanks to quarterback Matthew Stafford and his big-play receiver Calvin Johnson (13 catches, 171 yards and a score).
But the Lions were unable to run the clock far enough down to keep Luck and the Colts' offense from engineering the final drive.
“We did a poor job,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We were protecting the end zone. The worst job was letting the quarterback escape (on the final play). If we don't give him a place to scramble, he never finds that guy dragging across the field.”
Luck found him, and the Colts had a huge, emotional road win.
“We're just putting ourselves in position to do something special,” Arians said. “We haven't done anything yet.”