The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Local Sports

December 2, 2012

Motor City Miracle

DETROIT — This just doesn’t happen.

Call it a shock, a surprise, a stunner or any other word for astonishment that springs to mind.

Doesn’t matter.

What the Indianapolis Colts accomplished Sunday afternoon at Ford Field was nothing short of a miracle in the Motor City.

Trailing 33-21, with an offense that went AWOL for most of the second half and a 6-foot-5 human cheat code playing wide receiver on the other side, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes in the final two minutes and 39 seconds, and the Colts (8-4) shocked the Detroit Lions (4-8) 35-33 to add another chapter to their fairy-tale season.

“It’s never over till the last tick goes off the clock,” Indianapolis interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “I thought Andrew was outstanding in the last drive, especially overcoming some poor plays early in the game that we’ve still got to rectify on the road. But we found a way to win a ballgame on the road against a very quality opponent.”

This just doesn’t happen.

A rookie quarterback is not supposed to get away with throwing three interceptions — the last on an overthrow that handed a red-hot offense the football near midfield with a two-score lead and 6:49 remaining in the game — and then find a way to steal a victory.

Luck was hit hard for a 7-yard sack by Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on the first play from scrimmage, and it looked as though things might not get better the rest of the day.

He threw two interceptions in the first half as the Colts fell behind 23-14 at the break. And he led four drives that gained of total of 13 yards after Indianapolis cut its deficit to 23-21 with a touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson were playing near the top of their respective games. Stafford finished 27-of-46 for 313 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Johnson performed his full “Megatron” act, catching 13 passes for 171 yards and one score.

That touchdown, on a 46-yard pass from Stafford with two seconds left in the third quarter, gave Detroit a 30-21 lead. The Lions pushed it to 33-21 on a 31-yard field goal from Jason Hanson with 8:41 left in the game, and Luck’s final interception was supposed to be the nail in Indianapolis’ coffin.

But it wasn’t.

“We don’t know no better,” Colts defensive end Cory Redding said. “We just keep playing. We always say, ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard.’ You just keep playing. And when the clock reads zero, look up and see where it’s at.”

This just doesn’t happen.

Coaches go for it on fourth down deep in their own territory out of desperation all the time. But it rarely works.

Facing fourth-and-2 at his own 23, still trailing 33-21 and watching the clock tick down under the four-minute mark, Luck scrambled up the middle. He was brought down 8 yards later by Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, and a penalty for a horse-collar tackle tacked on 15 more yards.

Luck completed a short pass to Donald Brown for 5 yards on the next play, and the Colts suddenly were in Detroit’s territory. Following an incomplete pass to fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton, Luck dumped the ball off to running back Vick Ballard for 7 yards and a first down.

Then he rolled out to his left, kept his head up and his vision downfield, and hurled a 42-yard dart to rookie LaVon Brazill in the end zone for the former Ohio University star’s first career touchdown.

Luck said there was no panic in the huddle on the drive, and the Colts’ comeback could have ended there  trailing 33-28 with 2:39 to play.

But it didn’t.

“We’ll always play hard,” Luck said. “We’ll make our mistakes, but we’ll play hard. I just called the play. Guys knew the situation. They’re all smart football players. And it worked.”

This just doesn’t happen.

With the Lions facing a second-and-7 after the ensuing kickoff, and the Colts running out of timeouts, cornerback Cassius Vaughn was called for pass interference against Johnson, moving the ball to the Lions’ 44-yard line and again putting Indianapolis in peril.

The Colts’ defense needed to make a stop on the next three plays, and it did — stuffing Joique Bell for a 2-yard loss on first down, surrendering a 7-yard run to Mikel Leshoure on second down and stoning Leshoure after just a 1-yard gain on third down.

The pass interference penalty was supposed to short-circuit the Colts’ rally.

But it didn’t.

“It was a 60-minute game, and like I said it wasn’t an individual game,” Vaughn said. “We knew that we had to contain (Johnson), and I thought we kind of did. He got off, but we won the game. It was a 60-minute game.”

This just doesn’t happen.

Rookie quarterbacks — with 1:07 left, no timeouts and 75 yards between them and the end zone — don’t produce game-winning drives in contests with playoff implications in early December.

Luck started the final march with a scramble up the middle for 9 yards on a play that had Arians fearing the clock would soon run out. After a spike, he hit veteran Reggie Wayne for 26 yards to the Detroit 40.

Another spike, and Luck scrambled for 16 yards and got out of bounds at the Lions’ 24. The next pass was incomplete to Donnie Avery, then he found Dwayne Allen for 10 yards at the Lions’ 14.

Luck’s first down pass was incomplete to Wayne in the end zone. 14 seconds left.

On second down, a pass to Wayne was broken up in the end zone. Eight seconds left.

On third down, Luck’s pass sailed over Donnie Avery’s head and out of the back corner of the end zone. Four seconds left.

One down remaining. One play to produce a miracle.

Luck sent four receivers running routes in the end zone to his left. Avery was the fifth option, running to the right.

Luck bought time with his feet and rolled to the right. He hit Avery at about the 6-yard line and held his breath.

But the wide receiver was virtually untouched into the end zone. No time left.

“It’s tough to just sit back there and try to throw it when they’re dropping in their zones and doing a good job,” Luck said. “So, I figured, you know, buy a little time and run around a little, maybe it’ll open a window. You always hesitate throwing the ball not in the end zone, you know, for fear of the clock running out … So, looking downfield, I ... took the calculated risk that Donnie could get there, and he did.”

This just doesn’t happen.

Young teams with a head coach fighting leukemia don’t get up off the mat in a city with an arena named after former heavyweight champion Joe Louis and deliver a surprising knockout punch of their own.

But this team did.

“It’s getting better,” Arians said of this magical season. “It’s going to rank up there as long as we can finish it. We’re just putting ourselves in position to do something special. We really haven’t done anything yet.”

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