INDIANAPOLIS –On a normal NFL day, let alone in a playoff game, Indianapolis did enough to lose.
On a day as abnormal as it gets, the Colts pulled off the second-largest comeback in NFL post-season history by erasing a 38-10 second-half deficit for a 45-44 home victory over Kansas City.
"Incredible, incredible victory, great team victory, one for the ages," said Chuck Pagano. "Twenty-one wasn't enough at the half, so we thought we'd give them another seven just to make it interesting. Our guys are unbelievable."
After squaring the score 7-7 late in the first quarter, Indianapolis endured a horrific stretch that saw them trail 31-10 at intermission.
Kansas City rolled to 327 yards, 19 first downs and six third-down conversions on eight attempts in the opening half, scoring on five-of-six possessions.
Alex Smith, who hit 30-of-46 passes for 378 yards and four touchdowns, led the blitz that put
Indianapolis in hole reminiscent of the AFC Championship game in 2007 against New England, when the Colts trailed, 21-6 at halftime.
Smith was 14-of-23 for 217 yards and three scores in a crisply-led first 30 minutes.
"We knew he was the guy that all eyes were on and you had to stop," said Pagano. "We knew he was more than capable, and they had a bunch of playmakers. They did a great job. The tempo was fast. The substitutions were fast. The plays were (good)."
Like the 18-point comeback the Colts had seven years ago against the Patriots, they forged on after a first-play third-quarter turnover helped increased the Kansas City lead to 38-10.
Andrew Luck, who completed 29-of-45 passes for 443 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions, moved the Colts 80 yards in 1:52 to cut the deficit back to 21 points.
Robert Mathis had a strip-sack of Smith, and Indianapolis scored again when Luck hit Donald Brown on a three-yard pass to make the score 38-24. It was two Colts scores in a 4:15 span in the period.
Kansas City picked off Luck a third time later in the quarter, but the Indianapolis defense held the Chiefs to a field goal and a 41-24 advantage.
A team that erased deficits of 12, 14 and 18 points in beating Seattle, Tennessee and Houston produced a third quick touchdown drive when Luck hit Coby Fleener on a 12-yard scoring pass before the third quarter ended.
Indianapolis tallied 21 points on drives that totaled 16 plays for 201 yards and that took only 5:01 off the clock.
As the fourth quarter started, the Colts went on a 12-play, 90-yard drive that saw Luck hit T.Y. Hilton three times for 42 yards, while Brown ran effectively as Indianapolis reached the Kansas City two.
Indianapolis got within three points when Luck picked up a Brown fumble at the Kansas City five and scored on a heads-up play that followed the day's abnormal script.
Kansas City nudged the count back to six moments later, 44-38, but Luck capped an improbable day by converting a third down pass to Coby Fleener, then zipping a 64-yard strike to Hilton with 4:21 to go for the Colts' first lead.
Hilton and Luck clicked 13 times for 224 yards on the afternoon, and the touchdown put the Colts ahead for the first time of the day.
Kansas City was able to move to the Colts' 43, where a fourth-down pass with two minutes left was incomplete to end a game of the nature Pagano never had witnessed.
"One for the ages. Never seen anything quite like it," said Pagano. "I don't know if we won one of the statistical battles – time of possession, third down, turnovers – at the end of the day the only one that matters is the score. We had one more point than they had. We did just enough to win a football game and advance in the tournament."
The Chiefs out-rushed the Colts 150-100. Kansas City had 30 first downs to the Colts' 28. Indianapolis had the edge in yards, 536-513, but had four turnovers to the Chiefs' one.
This came after the Colts had played seven turnover-free games in 2013, including three in December.
It was a gutty performance. The comeback was the second-largest in playoff history. Buffalo erased a 32-point Houston lead on January 3, 1993.
Four times in the Colts' regular-season history it came back from 21-point deficits to win, the last being in 2003.
It was a memorable day when the Colts held together. One they will need to clean up as the playoffs continue.
For Pagano, it was a first playoff win, and he was proud of his team.
"You can measure a lot of things at the Combine, but you can't measure what's inside a man," said Pagano. "You can't measure his heart, and these guys got more heart and grit than anybody I've ever been around.
"They stuck to the process and never doubted. We had one more point than they had and did just enough to win a football game and advance in the tournament."