INDIANAPOLIS –On Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck starred again in the clutch as the Colts earned a heart-throbbing 30-27 victory over Green Bay.
Two games ago, he became the NFL's first rookie quarterback since 1971 to direct a September fourth-quarter comeback win when Indianapolis rallied past Minnesota.
Sunday, he would have become the first rookie to do it twice in that month, but a bye week pushed the club's fourth game into the first week of October.
Calendar or not, Luck was masterful as he helped the club erase a 21-3 halftime deficit in a dramatic win over a stellar opponent.
"I think coming into halftime, coming back out, we said, 'There's no 18-point touchdown. Let's play our football. We're not going to change anything, we just got to do better, do better,' " said Luck. "I think guys took that to heart. (We had) much better attention to detail, execution, focus, and you have Reggie Wayne making great plays every fifth play. The O-line worked their butts off, defense making plays, special teams shutting them down. I know the coaches said it in the locker room, but I couldn't be more proud of this team right now and this group of guys.
"(I'm) glad we won, glad we won. I'm happy for Chuck (Pagano). I'm happy for this organization."
Luck hit 31-of-55 passes for 362 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. He dusted himself off after a rough first half that included a big hit from Green Bay linebacker Nick Perry, and he emerged as the winning signal-caller on a field he was sharing with the league's reigning MVP (Aaron Rodgers) and in a home playing area where his predecessor, Peyton Manning, won four such honors.
Luck punctuated a dramatic third quarter with a three-yard scoring run that narrowed the deficit to 21-19. He then drove the Colts 75 yards for the go-ahead score, an Adam Vinatieri 28-yard field goal that pushed Indianapolis into a one-point lead.
Luck saw Rodgers put the Packers back into the lead with a touchdown pass with less than five minutes to go.
No problem. He has thrived in this moment before.
Luck took the field at his 20 with 4:30 to go. He hit rookie tight end Coby Fleener for six yards. On third-and-nine, he found Reggie Wayne for 15. He went back to Fleener and Wayne for seven and 12 yards, and the Colts were in opposing territory.
Luck faced down a third-and-12 seconds later, hitting Wayne for 15 more yards. After the club's second timeout, he found Wayne again for 18 yards to the Green Bay 14.
A third critical third-down play came from the Green Bay 11 with 47 seconds left. Luck tucked the ball and scrambled to the Packers' four, getting the first down by inches.
Luck then helped the club complete the comeback by hitting Wayne short of the goal-line, and the Pro Bowl receiver stretched the ball over the stripe with 35 second remaining. A two-point run by Donald Brown gave the Colts a 30-27 lead, and the team won when Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby was wide left from 51 yards out.
Luck took a knee to milk the final three seconds off a draining team victory.
"I think elation," said Luck when asked of the team's emotion. "You don't realize how happy you are. I think we'll all be going to bed tonight at whatever hour not being able to sleep."
The significance of the win is underscored by what the team had to overcome in beating a talented Packers team. It is measured by the circumstances under which it played with field leader Chuck Pagano fighting leukemia in a hospital bed just a couple of miles north of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Pagano was on the mind of every person associated with the Colts, something Luck noted.
"We're just so happy for Chuck (Pagano) and everything he's going through," said Luck. "Hopefully, this uplifts him in some sense or some fashion.
"I'm sure we were all lying to everybody saying we were trying to downplay (our emotions)," said Luck. "We all out there wanted to do it for Chuck more than anything else. To see all the emotions on Mr. Irsay, BA's (Bruce Arians) face, the coaches, the players, it was very special and I'm just very glad to be a part of it.
"This was one of the greatest athletic moments I've been a part of."
The comeback by the Colts tied the third-largest deficit overcome in a victory in franchise history. Four times the Colts rallied from 21-point deficits to win. Once, the team wiped out a 20-point deficit to win, and this was the fourth time the Colts have come back from 18 points down to win.
No rookie quarterbacks were involved in those comeback wins. Some of those comebacks came against solid teams, just like today's did, and Luck hung tough to get it done.
"I think you realize it's a long game," said Luck. "Luckily, in all my wins, I'm thinking straight. I made mistakes throughout the whole game so I think we realize making mistakes, is a part of the game. Just go out and play, keep chipping away and hopefully, good things will happen. Luckily, it did."
Luck has hit 96-of-177 passes for 1,208 yards, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions in four games. He has become the first Colts rookie since Bert Jones (1973) to toss scoring passes in the first four games of a season. He also has produced 100-yard receivers in every outing – Wayne twice and Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton once.
Luck's 55 attempts were two short of the club rookie mark of Jack Trudeau (1986), while his 31 completions set a new club rookie standard. Luck joined Cam Newton (Carolina, 2011) as the only NFL rookies to have three 300-yard outings in the first four games of a career, and his total is one shy of the club's rookie mark of Manning (4, 1998).
Asked if he thought he had taken another step forward, Luck admitted he believes that is the case.
"Yeah, I think so," said Luck. "There are a lot of things I wish I could've done better. There were a lot of incompletions out there, which Green Bay did a great job of, different pressures, different looks, getting hands on balls, luckily a couple of those balls, overturned interceptions and things of that nature. I do think we got better. I think we got better and got a win."
Dead-panned Interim Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians, "I'm not trading him for anybody in the world right now."