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Colts thrive when Luck hits winning time

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Quarterback moves into double figures in comeback wins

Monday, November 4, 2013 - 7:20 pm

Andrew Luck might end up leading the NFL in only one statistic, but it's a good one: jaw-dropping comeback wins.

He has 10 of them in 17 career wins with the Indianapolis Colts. Ten times Luck and the Colts have looked down, if not out, and risen from the dead for a win. Ten times the Colts have frustrated and exasperated their fans by falling behind, either in a battle or – more often – in a game-long stretch of mediocrity. Call him 10 times clutch.

For a long, long patch of the Colts' 27-24 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday night at Reliant Stadium in Houston, I'm sure plenty of people sitting at home like me felt tempted to turn off the television and go to bed, some even without cursing. I'm also sure many knew that, as long as time remained, counting Luck out is always premature.

For much of the game, Luck looked lousy, a reflection of his team as a whole. He was under unbearable pressure from an inspired Houston pass rush triggered by J.J. Watt. Luck sailed his throws long. He missed open receivers, even guys he'd played with at Stanford University. He learned why critics think Darrius Heyward-Bey has a dropping problem. Or maybe it's a catching problem.

Yet this 24-year-old quarterback with cool demeanor in the tradition of Joe Montana or (insert your favorite clutch QB here) refused to flinch. Luck had every reason to flinch. He was 6-of-20 passing for a mere 89 yards with four sacks, staring at a 24-6 deficit. He didn't flinch.

NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth was working on his Hall of Fame induction speech for Texans quarterback Case Keenum (350 yards, three TDs) when Luck finally tapped into a flicker of momentum.

Luck hit T.Y. Hilton – one shoe off, one shoe on – with a touchdown pass. It was a pretty one, one of timing and touch, and it set up everything to follow.

When Luck is in a rhythm, he's a handful for any team. Granted, the Texans defense probably lost some zest when head coach Gary Kubiak was taken to the hospital at halftime. (The Texans say they expect him to be fine.)

And the Texans, like other teams that have built a lead on the Colts during Luck's season-and-a-half, tried coasting to a win instead of accelerating. Keenum went away from looking for Andre Johnson (nine catches, 229 yards, three touchdowns) just enough to let the Colts secondary breathe.

Houston kicker Randy Bullock allowed an opening with a missed field goal. It was one of three misses, including a 55-yarder as time expired. You don't give Luck a late-game opening.

With Reggie Wayne on the sidelines sporting crutches after knee surgery, Luck's passing options are limited. But he honed in on Hilton and it paid off.

Luck burned the Texans with a 58-yard touchdown pass to Hilton to cut the Texans' lead to 24-19 with 9:54 left. Nine minutes, 54 seconds in the fourth quarter is a football lifetime for Luck so far in his career.

The Colts defense forced a punt, helped by coach Chuck Pagano's challenge that led to a replay reversal of a Johnson catch. The punt bounced back to near midfield.

Luck hit Griff Whalen to convert a third-and-10. He dumped one to Trent Richardson, who made his biggest play so far, sprinting down the left sideline. On second-and-7, Luck found Hilton for a third touchdown to put the Colts up 25-24. Hilton caught seven passes for 121 yards in making his case for filling Wayne's shoes.

The Colts went for the two-point conversion and Luck completed a back-shoulder pass to Coby Fleener, who caught it despite being double teamed. It was a perfectly placed pass, in a spot only Fleener could have caught it.

It was the kind of pass Colts fans saw Peyton Manning make for a dozen-plus magical seasons.

The Texans failed to force overtime and dropped to 2-6. The Colts improved to 6-2, and the legend of Luck gained another building block as the Colts prepare for next Sunday's home game against the Rams.

There were a number of reasons why the Colts were in such a hole in Houston, not the least of which were two plays that seemed like missed calls: A no-call when Colts punter Pat McAfee took a shot as he punted and a replay reversal after the Colts forced a fumble and recovered it on a Texans' kick return.

The offensive line gave Luck little time to throw early, and his hurried, inaccurate throws reflected that. A drop by Hilton killed a drive, too.

Here's the thing, though: Defenses tire. Pass rushing becomes tougher after a night of body shots and uncalled holds. Luck's intelligence and physical strength allow him to shake off early problems and forget failures.

Luck has three come-from-behind wins this season. Colts coaches don't want to force him into those situations too often. To their credit, they looked for him to lead in the second half, all but abandoning the running game to let him rip. Why not? He rips it late like few others.

Luck has a presence that teams are always looking for in a quarterback. The Colts found that type of player in Manning. To strike it rich again is the best of luck, as well as the best of Luck.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at