by Kent Sterling
Once in awhile, if you watch sports long enough, something so incredible happens that it defies rational explanation of belief. If that play happens during a make or break moment in a postseason NFL game during an improbable comeback, it becomes legendary.
The Colts 45-44 win over the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday night after being behind 38-10 was outrageous, but the fumble recovery by Andrew Luck was one of those singular moments that will forever be identified with a franchise.
The play featured a series of ordinary moments and movements that led to the least predictable outcome for any play since the immaculate reception in Pittsburgh.
Here is a frame-by-frame description of what happened to cause the ball to wind up in Luck’s hands and then what allowed Luck to score after his recovery:
- The Colts line up in the shotgun with three wide receivers spread – Da’Rick Rogers wide left, Griff Whalen wide right, and T.Y. Holton in the slot left. Coby Fleener is the tight end on the right side of the offensive line. Running back Donald Brown is a foot behind Luck, just to his right.
- The Chiefs have tight man coverage on the three Colts receivers, Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry over the top of Fleener, three down linemen – one directly over Colts center Samson Satele, two linebackers positioned to hold the edge, middle linebacker Derrick Johnson over the tackle positioned on Satele, and safety Kendrick Lewis off of the right side of the line.
- As the ball is snapped with 10:45 left to play and the Colts trailing 41-31, Satele fires left, while left guard Hugh Thornton pulls right to try to create a hole in the area Satele vacates.
- The ball is immediately handed to Brown, who cradles it in his left arm at the six-yard line.
- Right tackle Gosder Cherilous moves left defensive end Tyson Jackson out of the hole.
- Right Guard Mike McGlynn slices forward and left but whiffs on his attempted block of MLB Johnson.
- Thornton hits Johnson just after McGlynn’s miss.
- Fleener is forced to choose between blocking Berry and outside linebacker Justin Houston. He picks Houston, who is positioned just outside Berry.
- That leaves Berry unblocked. Angry with himself for missing the one-on-one tackle at the 12-yard line of Brown on the previous play, Berry slices to his right to make contact with Brown at the three.
- Berry puts his helmet on the ball (on the opposite side of Brown’s body), which pops out of Brown’s grasp to the left directly into the rear right side of Satele’s helmet, while he stands at the three.
- Luck sees all this in front of him while standing on the eight-yard line.
- The ball bounces at the four-and-a-half yard line. Satele spins immediately to locate the ball, and Luck moves forward.
- Safety Kendrick Lewis has moved into the hole by the time the ball is recovered by Luck at the five. Lewis had been a yard deep in the end zone at the moment Brown fumbled, and likely too deep to have a legitimate chance to stop Brown, but in a perfect position now.
- The ball bounces straight up nearly waist high, and Luck grabs it at the five-yard line rather than fall on it. His momentum carries him forward.
- Lewis pursues the ball, and Berry is in a sitting position after his near game saving forced fumble.
- Luck and Lewis’s momentum in opposite directions carries him carry them past each other, he clears Berry’s legs, and leaps across the back of prone McGlynn into the end zone with 10:40 showing on the clock.
- The Chiefs lead is cut to 41-38.
- The crowd goes crazy, the Colts players on the field go crazy, the Chiefs leave the field despndant. Injured wide receiver Reggie Wayne and All-Pro OLB Robert Mathis stand stoic on the sidelines. They have been there before, and know the Colts still have a deficit to overcome and only 10 minutes in which to do it.
Obviously, that play didn’t end the game. The Chiefs moved the ball during their next possession, and kicked a 43-yard field goal with 5:36 to play to extend the lead to 44-38. Luck hit Hilton for a 64-yard touchdown to take the lead with 4:21 left, and that was it for the scoring.
Dwayne Bowe was forced out of bounds by Josh Gordy after catching a long pass on fourth-and-11 that would have set the Chiefs up with a first down inside the Colts 20, just under two-minutes left, and the Colts with only two timeouts. Best case scenario, the Colts get the ball back down two with no timeouts.
It takes a team to come back from a 28-point deficit, but only one five-second play to create a legend.