INDIANAPOLIS –With two months remaining in the regular season, the Indianapolis Colts had positioned themselves in the thick of the AFC playoff picture thanks to a 4-3 record.
Rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill marked a pair of top-10 draft picks dueling it out at Lucas Oil Stadium and both played well beyond their years on Nov. 4.
A back-and-forth opening half ended with Adam Vinatieri connecting on a 47-yard field goal to cut the Dolphins lead to 17-13 at intermission.
It was a relatively quiet third quarter before, rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton showed off something other than elite speed when he elevated over a pair of Dolphins defensive backs to haul in a 36-yard touchdown.
Miami would respond with an early fourth quarter field goal before Vinatieri answered with a 43-yarder with 5:58 remaining and the Colts held on for a 23-20 victory.
The victory moved the Colts to 5-3 but outweighing that was the physical presence of head coach Chuck Pagano in the locker room following the game.
Pagano addressed his team about dealing with circumstances and two promises of dancing at his daughters' weddings and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
It was an emotional afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium, one filled with tears of joy, thanks to the first of many returns for Pagano.
"It was an incredibly special day just having Chuck in the building, being here," said Owner and CEO Jim Irsay. "I didn't know how long his energy would hold up but just him being here made the win that more special.
"This year has been so emotion and so much has happened with the different victories and this one. It's hard to rank the moments because there have been so many of them, but this one ranks up there. It's incredible. Having Chuck here with us and having him in the locker room afterward was super special."
OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT:It was the second matchup of an opposing rookie quarterback for Luck and after scoring two rushing touchdowns in round one, the Colts No. 1 pick went to the air against Tannehill.
Luck set an NFL rookie record with 433 passing yards behind a 30-of-48 passing day, with a pair of touchdown tosses.
It was the chunk plays that proved to be critical for Luck as nine of his 30 completions went for at least 20 yards.
Luck spread the ball around to seven different receivers with Donnie Avery (108 yards) and T.Y. Hilton (102 yards) both cracking the 100-yard mark.
DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT:After a first half in which the Pro Bowl duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis each recorded a sack, it was the play of the defense after halftime that was the highlight.
Miami had five possessions in the second half which accounted for just three points and the Dolphins were limited to just 4-of-11 on third downs.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:Numerous times last season, Colts veteran receiver Reggie Wayne has been asked about the play of quarterback Andrew Luck. Perhaps, no performance was better for Luck in 2013 than the one on Nov. 4.
"That kid just continues to amaze," Wayne said. "He has a really bright, bright future. Hopefully, I can help add on to this legacy that he's about to build. I was happy for him, man. He took control of the game as he always does. Like we've been saying all year – no panic, no pressure."INTERESTING FACT:The Miami Dolphins came into the month of November leading the NFL in allowing just 26.4 percent of third down conversions.
In the 23-20 Colts victory over the Dolphins, the offense converted 13-of-19 third down attempts with Luck completing 13-of-17 passes for 204 yards on those downs.
CLICK HERE FOR A PHOTO GALLERY OF PAGANO IN THE POSTGAME LOCKER ROOMVIDEO OF COACH PAGANO'S EMOTIONAL POSTGAME LOCKER ROOM SPEECH: