INDIANAPOLIS – Last November 4 shaped up as a big day for the Colts and Dolphins.
Playing in Lucas Oil Stadium, both teams with first-year head coaches and rookie quarterbacks stood at 4-3 and were in good stead in the chase for a playoff spot. The team that lost, however, would be at a tie-breaker disadvantage.
It was a day that ended as one of the more special ones in the Colts' era in Indianapolis. For the first time since late September, Chuck Pagano was on hand to see his team in person as he waged a fight against leukemia.
Interim leader Bruce Arians surprised the team by having Pagano visit the locker room before the game and after the Colts had earned a 23-20 victory, Pagano praised his troops for refusing to live under tough circumstances and low projections and dare to dream for larger things.
Pagano himself was doing the same on a personal level. Triumphant in his own quest eight weeks later, he re-joined his team on the sidelines for a 28-16 victory over Houston in the finale as Indianapolis was off to the playoffs again.
The victory over Miami was one solid step that helped propel the Colts onward. The Colts, 1-0, and Miami, 1-0, now meet much earlier in this season, but both have the same intent for gaining momentum as the season unfolds.
Indianapolis earned a come-from-behind home victory last Sunday against Oakland, 21-17. Miami took a 23-10 road win last week at Cleveland.
Pagano and Joe Philbin will oppose each other this Sunday, and their second-year quarterbacks are two pieces to the contest.
Andrew Luck (Stanford) was the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, while Ryan Tannehill was the eighth overall choice out of Texas A&M. Both put on a good show in last year's meeting.
Tannehill hit 22-of-38 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown, helping Miami to three different leads while earning a 17-13 halftime advantage. On this day, however, he could not match Luck.
Luck hit 30-of-48 passes for 433 yards, an NFL rookie record, and two touchdowns. He found Reggie Wayne for a first-quarter lead, then connected with T.Y. Hilton in the third period for a 20-17 advantage. Adam Vinatieri decided matters with a fourth-quarter field goal.
Snapping Cam Newton's one-year-old rookie yardage mark was one thing, but how Luck thrived on third downs was one of the high points of the season.
While 18 of his 30 completions gained double-digit yardage totals (nine topped 20 yards), he was 13-of-17 for 204 yards on third downs. Luck's completions went to six different receivers, while Miami entered the game best in the NFL by allowing just 26.4 percent conversions on third down.
ANDREW LUCK ON THIRD DOWN VS. MIAMI, November 4, 2012
Yards to convert
22 pass to Dwayne Allen
9 pass to Reggie Wayne
25 pass to T.Y. Hilton
9 pass to Reggie Wayne
14 pass to Vick Ballard
9 pass to Vick Ballard
Incomplete to LaVon Brazill
Missed Field Goal
20 pass to T.Y. Hilton
14 pass to Donnie Avery
22 pass to Donnie Avery
Incomplete to Donnie Avery
15 pass to Vick Ballard
19 pass to LaVon Brazill
20 pass to Dwayne Allen
6 pass to Reggie Wayne
Incomplete to T.Y. Hilton
Incomplete to Reggie Wayne
In leading Miami to only its second season-opening win in the last eight years at Cleveland last Sunday, Tannehill threw for 272 yards on 24-of-38 passing and a touchdown. He led the Dolphins to two second-half touchdown drives to overcome a halftime deficit.
Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson combined for 16 receptions for 221 yards and a score, while the Miami defense limited Cleveland to 47 rushing yards. Miami had six sacks.
Luck had another masterful performance last Sunday by hitting his first 11 passes and directing the Colts to two touchdowns to open the game. After failing to score on four subsequent possessions and trailing by three points, Luck moved Indianapolis 80 yards in 11 plays, capping the comeback march with a 19-yard scoring run to re-claim the lead with 5:20 remaining.
When safety Antoine Bethea pirated a late Oakland pass to seal the game, Indianapolis had its eighth fourth-quarter or overtime win in the last 17 games, and its first triumph in a season opener since 2009. Pagano sang the praises of Luck afterward.
"It's huge," said Pagano of his confidence in Luck in those moments. "Like you saw last year, seven fourth-quarter comebacks and you have a quarterback like Andrew and you have playmakers around him, you feel good about playing aggressive. You have a guy like that, it sure makes you feel good. If there's a minute left on the clock and we need a score, there's no one I'd rather have under center than that guy."
Said Reggie Wayne, "He inspires everyone in the huddle. Nothing seems to get him down. Even when they took the lead, he said, 'This is going to be the drive to win the game.' He's always confident. He plays like he's a 15-year vet."
Luck was the first of four quarterbacks taken in the first round, and he keeps tabs on all that were taken in the 2012 process.
"As a football fan, I definitely pay attention to what other quarterbacks do, especially guys in your draft," said Luck. "You build up somewhat of a fraternity (sense), if you will, just by virtue of coming out in the same year, being at a lot of different functions through the pre-rookie, pre-draft time.
"You get to know the guys well. A bunch of guys have Texas connections, so that's sort of an interesting sub-plot to our rookie draft class. I always wish the best for all of them, unless we have to play them."
These former division mates (1970-2001) have met only five times since Indianapolis moved to the AFC South in 2002. Last year's game was the first for Miami in Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Colts' victory gave them a four-game series winning streak.
The Colts will be looking for their first 2-0 start since 2009. Indianapolis has not committed a turnover in its last three regular-season games. Never in franchise history have the Colts gone four games without a miscue.