It was then quarterback Andrew Luck’s turn to try to make something happen. The Colts led 14-10, a seemingly tenuous advantage at the time, and were staring at a third-and-16 play at Denver’s 40.
Luck floated a pass down the middle to tight end Coby Fleener, who was surrounded by three defenders. But the pass was perfect. Fleener caught it for a 32-yard gain.
These are the kind of magical Luck moments that show why the Colts believe anything is possible in these playoffs. They cashed in on that huge play for a third touchdown — a Luck 15-yard scoring pass to Hakeem Nicks — and that proved to be more than enough to defeat the Denver Broncos 24-13 in Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“That’s what makes him a special quarterback,” Fleener said of his former Stanford teammate, who both arrived at the same NFL destination in the same year in 2012. “I trust him. I trust the guy with my life.”
In Andrew the Colts do trust.
Luck threw two touchdown passes and led the Colts to another score with Daniel Herron running it in from 6 yards out. There was also a fourth-quarter possession that resulted in Adam Vinatieri’s 30-yard field goal to make it a two-score game.
Meanwhile, the Colts’ defense never let Manning get too comfortable. A Broncos team that had relied more on the run in December managed a modest 88 yards on 20 carries. And Manning was unable to make up the difference. The Broncos were just 4-of-16 on third downs (25 percent). They were forced to punt six times.
That gave Luck more possession time to keep Manning off the field. The Colts had the ball for 34 minutes, one second to the Broncos’ 25:59.
The Colts’ seemingly back-breaking touchdown drive in the third quarter ate up 8 minutes, 21 seconds of clock.
“That’s the O-line doing a great job, and tight ends, and fullbacks, and (tight ends) Dwayne Allen, Jack Doyle and Coby Fleener coming off the ball,” said Luck, who wasn’t sacked once by a pass rush which featured DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, who combined for 24 regular-season sacks. “Wideouts chipping in with a couple passes here and there. But, that’s on the O-line to grind some meat and what a great drive that was.”
Luck admitted the offense fed off how his defense was playing.
“They do a heck of a job and it’s fun watching them on the sidelines; making plays and having fun,” he said. “I know we feed off their energy and I’d like to think they feed off of us and special teams. It was truly three phases working together, but, what a great job we did defensively.”
But the whole combination still starts with Luck.
"Hats off to him, man," Nicks said of his quarterback. "The way he controls the game and manages the game this early in his career -- that's great. He believes in us, and we believe in him."
The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback led the Colts to a pair of second-quarter scoring drives to take a 14-7 lead. The Colts never trailed again, because of how he managed the offense and because of the spirited play from the Colts defense.
“It’s a very special team,” said left offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo. “And I’m excited about what we’ve got going forward here.”
The Colts get to enjoy this win for a moment. On Monday, they’ll begin preparations to go to New England for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the rival Patriots.
“Any time you win, it’s fun,” Fleener said. “But with such high stakes, it’s even more fun.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.