Indianapolis Andy Reid was almost speechless.
He couldn’t explain how the Chiefs’ defense blew a 28-point lead or why Kansas City’s offense could only generate two field goals in the final 28½ minutes. He didn’t bother to reflect on how a promising 9-0 start turned into yet another first-game playoff exit for the Chiefs. And he didn’t dare try to put a bitter 45-44 wild-card loss into historical context.
“Sometimes the game speaks for itself, so you don’t have to say a whole lot,” Reid said when asked about his postgame locker room speech.
For the Chiefs (11-6), it was a crushing blow to a remarkable turnaround season.
They went from 2-14 to the playoffs behind Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith and for most of the first three quarters, it looked as though Kansas City would finally end a two-decade drought without a postseason win. And when the Chiefs led 38-10 with 13:39 left in the third quarter, it seemed all but assured that they would be moving on next weekend.
Instead, they watched helplessly as Andrew Luck led the Colts on the second-largest playoff comeback in NFL history.
Kansas City closed the season with three straight losses, six losses in their last eight games, and a record-breaking eighth straight playoff loss.
“Any time you’re leading like that and then have them battle back and then take it and losing by a point is a tough pill to swallow,” Smith said.
Especially on a day on which Luck appeared to be pressing. The Colts quarterback turned things around by throwing three of his four touchdowns in the second half, scoring on a fumble return and connecting with a wide-open T.Y. Hilton on a 64-yard go-ahead TD pass.
“One for the ages,” said Pagano, Indianapolis’ coach.
Indianapolis (12-5) became only the second playoff team to rally from that big a deficit, according to STATS. Buffalo rallied from 32 points to beat Houston 41-38 in January 1993, though that one required overtime.
The teams’ 1,049 combined total yards is an NFL postseason record, and their 89 combined points is third.
Luck was an incredible mix of good and bad, finishing 29 of 45 for 443 yards, the second-highest yardage total in franchise history for a playoff game. He also matched his career high with three interceptions. Hilton broke franchise playoff records with 13 catches and 224 yards, and also caught two TDs.
“I don’t know if it ever crossed my mind on how it would be remembered,” Luck said after winning his first playoff game four seasons quicker than it took his predecessor, Peyton Manning. “When I took a knee, and you feel the buzz and the energy of the crowd and see your teammates’ faces, that makes it special.”
For Kansas City, it was another brief, miserable postseason appearance.
And the Chiefs went home beaten up, too.
Starting running back Jamaal Charles left with a concussion on the opening possession. Knile Davis, Charles’ backup, left in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a left knee injury. Receiver Donnie Avery and cornerback Brandon Flowers were knocked out with second-half concussions, and linebacker Justin Houston was out with a knee injury when Hilton caught the winning pass.
That put even more pressure on Smith, who was 30 of 46 for 378 yards with four TDs and no interceptions but lost a fumble that led to a touchdown for Indy. He had a chance to rally the Chiefs after Hilton’s score and wound up throwing to Dwayne Bowe — who caught the ball but was out of bounds — on fourth-and-11 with 1:55 to play.
Indy, down 31-10 at halftime, made it worse when Luck’s first pass of the second half was picked off and returned to the Indy 18. Three plays later, it was 38-10.
But Luck had plenty of time to make the jaw-dropping rally.
With Indy going no-huddle, Luck started throwing at will. He eventually caught the Chiefs defense off-guard when Donald Brown scored on a 10-yard run to start the rally. Then Luck capitalized on the fumble by hooking with Brown on a 3-yard TD pass to make it 38-24.
After Luck’s third interception turned into a 42-yard field goal, he answered with a 12-yard TD pass to cut the deficit to 41-31 after three quarters.
Even when Eric Berry jarred the ball loose from Brown near the goal line, Luck had the answer. He scooped up the bouncing ball and squirted through the middle to make it 41-38. And after a Kansas City field, goal, Luck found Hilton to win it.