When flattened by the unexpected, the best thing is to get right back up and stare it in the eye.
If that was Chuck Pagano’s implied message to his Colts this week, it also was Andrew Luck’s message to the Packers Sunday afternoon.
Enduring a first half in which he was battered by the Green Bay pass rush, Luck was pancaked by unblocked linebacker Nick Perry early in the second quarter. Not only was it a huge hit – “a great pop,” as Luck later described it – it drew a 15-yard penalty for helmet to helmet contact.
If Luck was feeling the pain, he didn’t show it. He got up, went to the huddle and – get this – accepted blame for taking the sack. And when he stepped to the line of scrimmage to take the next snap, Luck turned his head in Perry’s direction and appeared to smile as if to say, “I’m still here.”
At that moment, the seed for the Colts’ stunning 30-27 comeback upset of the mighty Packers were sown on the field turf of Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday afternoon. The Colts were down, way down, but they would not allow themselves to be out.
“That wouldn’t surprise me at all,” interim coach Bruce Arians said when asked about Luck’s response to the big hit. “He’s a fierce competitor. He probably said, ‘nice hit.’ I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the world.”
Not even Aaron Rodgers, not on this day. Luck rallied the Colts from a 21-3 halftime deficit by directing three consecutive scoring drives to start the third period to set up the closer. After Rodgers connected with James Jones on an eight-yard scoring pass to put the Packers up 27-22 with 4:30 left, Luck stepped up once again.
The rookie completed eight passes for 80 yards and converted three huge third down plays on the 13-play, game-winning drive — twice finding the bright orange gloves of Reggie Wayne, and once scrambling to the Green Bay 4-yard line. From there he finished things off with a four-yard bullet to Wayne, who reached across the goal line with the winning score with 35 seconds remaining. It was Wayne’s fifth reception of the drive.
“I didn’t want to be denied,” Wayne said. “I wanted to get in that end zone.”
It wasn’t official until Green Bay’s Mason Crosby missed his second long field goal of the game, pushing a 51-yarder wide left with three seconds remaining. As time expired, the on-field celebration began.
As it turns out, the Colts were fooling us all week leading up to the game with their talk about containing their emotions over the news that their popular head coach was hospitalized with leukemia and would not return to the sidelines this season, even if he achieves full remission.
This game absolutely was about winning one for Chuck, and that’s precisely what they did.
“Greatest win I’ve ever been a part of,” said Arians. “I can’t say enough about the resiliency, the fight, in these guys.
“Kind of a storybook ending and we got a game ball for Chuck.”
Luck completed 31 of 55 attempts – the latter the fourth most in franchise history – for 362 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His primary target was the ageless Wayne, who found out the color to be worn as a tribute to leukemia patients was orange and asked the team’s equipment men to find him anything they could in that shade.
They found the gloves, and so did Luck, 13 times for 212 yards – the third most in franchise history.
It was especially meaningful for Wayne, who has known Pagano for 16 years dating back to their days together at Miami (Fla.).
“Great human being, great coach, great personality, everything he identifies is great,” Wayne said. “To come out and do it for him, I said I was going to have to lay it all on the line.”
Luck and Wayne were the headliners but there were many other contributors. A battered offensive line yielded four sacks in the first half but none in the second. Embattled running back Donald Brown slashed for a season-high 84 yards on 17 carries. Rodgers had stayed clean for eight consecutive quarters but the defense came up with five sacks in the second half, two from Cory Redding. And Jerraud Powers came up with a huge interception to kill Green Bay’s first possession of the second half and begin the momentum shift.
The reward was a special scene in the locker room afterward.
“A lot of tears, a lot of joy, a lot of pride,” Arians said. “A band of brothers just came together.”
They just may have found a leader in the process. Luck showed much more than ability in this performance. He showed the kind of competitive fire that separates talented players from great ones. And it all began with his response to that face plant in the second quarter.
Asked what he was thinking at the time, Luck said:
“Luckily, I still have all my limbs, I’m thinking straight so, while there’s time on the clock, we’ll play.”
|Green Bay Touchdown – 2-yard run by John Kuhn. (Mason Crosby extra point is good). 2:07 Time Remaining. (6 plays, 56 yards. Time of Drive: 2:33).|
|Green Bay Touchdown – 6-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to James Jones. (Mason Crosby extra point is good). 12:25 Time Remaining. (6 plays, 65 yards. Time of Drive: 2:46).|
|Indianapolis Field Goal – 24-yarder by Adam Vinatieri. 6:21 Time Remaining. (8 plays, 63 yards. Time of Drive: 3:09).|
|Green Bay Touchdown – 31-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb. (Mason Crosby extra point is good). 4:21 Time Remaining. (3 plays, 66 yards. Time of Drive: 2:00).|
|Indianapolis Touchdown – 8-yard pass from Andrew Luck to Dwayne Allen. (Adam Vinatieri extra point is good). 11:06 Time Remaining. (5 plays, 39 yards. Time of Drive: 2:13).|
|Indianapolis Field Goal – 50-yarder by Adam Vinatieri. 7:42 Time Remaining. (8 plays, 38 yards. Time of Drive: 2:26).|
|Indianapolis Touchdown – 3-yard run by Andrew Luck. (Andrew Luck pass incomplete to Reggie Wayne, two-point conversion failed). 0:18 Time Remaining. (6 plays, 58 yards. Time of Drive: 2:59).|
|Indianapolis Field Goal – 28-yarder by Adam Vinatieri. 8:04 Time Remaining. (8 plays, 75 yards. Time of Drive: 3:23).|
|Green Bay Touchdown – 8-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to James Jones. (Aaron Rodgers pass incomplete to Donald Driver, two-point conversion failed). 4:30 Time Remaining. (2 plays, 49 yards. Time of Drive: 0:14).|
|Indianapolis Touchdown – 4-yard pass from Andrew Luck to Reggie Wayne. (Donald Brown up the middle for the two-point conversion). 0:35 Time Remaining. (13 plays, 80 yards. Time of Drive: 3:55).|
|Referee: Walt Anderson||Umpire:Butch Hannah|
|Line Judge: Byron Boston||Side Judge:Michael Banks|
|Head Linesman: Steve Stelljes||Back Judge:Billy Smith|
|Field Judge: David Meslow|
|Final Team Statistics|
|TOTAL FIRST DOWNS||21||28|
|THIRD DOWN EFFICIENCY||4-13-31||8-20-40|
|FOURTH DOWN EFFICIENCY||0-0-0||0-1-0|
|TOTAL NET YARDS||356||464|
|Total Off. Plays (inc. times thrown passing)||61||89|
|Avg. gain per offensive play||5.8||5.2|
|NET YARDS RUSHING||141||119|
|Total Rushing Plays||23||30|
|Avg. gain per rushing play||6.1||4.0|
|NET YARDS PASSING||215||345|
|Times Thrown – yards lost attempting to pass||5-28||4-17|
|Gross yards passing||243||362|
|PASS ATTEMPTS-COMPLETIONS-HAD INTERCEPTED||33-21-1||55-31-1|
|Avg. gain per pass play (inc. # thrown passing)||5.7||5.8|
|PUNTS Number and average||7-45.1||5-44.6|
|Net Punting Average||43.3||40.8|
|TOTAL RETURN YARDAGE (Not including kickoffs)||19||13|
|No. and Yards Punt Returns||4-19||2-13|
|No. and Yards Kickoff Returns||3-95||0-0|
|No. and Yards Interception Returns||1-0||1-0|
|PENALTIES No. and Yards||9-89||9-100|
|FUMBLES No. and Lost||0-0||1-0|
|EXTRA POINTS Made-Attempts||3-3||1-1|
|FIELD GOALS Made-Attempts||0-2||3-4|
|TIME OF POSSESSION||24:44||35:16|
|Final Individual Statistics|
|Final Defensive Statistics|