INDIANAPOLIS — The postgame handshake between Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano and Kansas City’s Andy Reid early Saturday evening proved a uniting of sorts.
Two grown men who had seemingly witnessed everything witnessing something new: Indianapolis 45, Kansas City 44.
And it wasn’t that close. It was closer.
An AFC wildcard playoff game sure to be cemented in legend long after its combatants are gone saw the Colts advance in the postseason in one of the most unimaginable ways possible.
Trailing 31-10 at halftime, Indianapolis, which entered the home locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium to a loud chorus of boos, all but modeled Superman capes the rest of the way.
With second-year quarterback Andrew Luck carving apart the Chiefs’ defense and the Colts’ defense holding strong at the end, Pagano & Co. move on to play another day.
The eventual printed itinerary depends on the outcome of today’s San Diego-Cincinnati playoff game.
Should the Chargers prevail on the road, Indy would travel to longtime nemesis New England next weekend. If Cincinnati wins the Colts are bound for Denver and a meeting with former Colts signal-caller Peyton Manning.
“Incredible, incredible victory. One for the ages,” said Pagano, whose club actually faced a four-touchdown deficit early in the third period (38-10). “Twenty-one (points) wasn’t enough at the half, so we thought we would give them another seven.”
Pagano was, of course, joking.
Kansas City’s flawless first half may have added new gray hairs to the coach’s arsenal. The Chiefs moved the football at will, amassing 327 yards and an equally staggering 19 first downs.
The second half belonged to Indianapolis. The Colts’ gradual chiseling away at the seemingly insurmountable deficit slowly increased the decibel level inside the stadium.
In time, 38-10 became 38-17 and later 38-24. A 42-yard field goal by K.C.’s Ryan Succop at 4:12 of the third briefly padded Chiefs’ lead, but Indianapolis responded with Luck’s 12-yard dart to tight end Coby Fleener in the back of the end zone.
At 10:38 of the fourth, Luck, who passed for 443 yards and four touchdowns, made a crucial play with his legs when he picked up tailback Donald Brown’s fumble and ran 5 yards for the TD that made it a 41-38 game.
Succop’s 43-yard field goal returned momentum to the visitors’ sideline. Though with 5:36 still showing, Luck and the rest of the Colts’ offense had plenty of time to rally.
Starting from its 20 Indianapolis needed but four plays to generate the winning heroics.
Wideout T.Y. Hilton’s 64-yard touchdown reception over the middle on a first-and-10 with 4:21 left in regulation tied the score. Adam Vinatieri’s conversion kick gave Indy its first and only lead of the game.
The only lead it would need.
Kansas City on the ensuing series made it all the way to the Colts’ 39, but an intentional grounding penalty on quarterback Alex Smith would come back to haunt the visitors.
On fourth-and-11, Smith connected with Dwayne Bowe along the right sideline, but the latter’s right foot was out of bounds while being defended by cornerback Josh Gordy.
Indianapolis took over on downs and ran out the remaining time.
Hilton finished with 13 receptions for a franchise playoff record 224 yards.
“So happy we won. So proud of the heart of this team,” Luck said. “Man, it’s fun to play with T.Y. Hilton. It’s fun to play with Donald Brown. This team has never panicked since I’ve been a part of it. To see Donald Brown’s face at the end ... his big smile. To see your teammates faces, that’s special.”