The Indianapolis Colts pulled off the second-biggest comeback in the history of the NFL playoffs, rallying from 38-10 down to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44, a comeback exceeded only by the Buffalo Bills’ coming from 35-3 down to beat the old Houston Oilers (currently the Tennessee Titans) back in 1992. Here’s our Notebook Nine, the takeaways from the Kansas City-Indianapolis first-round game…
- *The city of Kansas City has to feel cursed. In the preview of this game, TheSportsNotebook documented the franchise’s 20-year playoff frustration, including a particularly agonizing loss to these Colts back in 1995. Now they blow this lead after losing running back Jamaal Charles on the game’s first drive and outside linebacker Justin Houston, whose pass-rushing is vital to the defense later in the game.
- *Injuries or no, I agree with the postgame comments of NBC studio analyst Rodney Harrison who excoriated the Kansas City defensive gameplan. Harrison, a former strong safety, wondered why the Chiefs didn’t double T.Y. Hilton and let the rest of Indy’s mediocre receiving corps try and beat them. Hilton had 13 of his team’s 29 catches and netted 224 yards.
- *I further agree with more criticism that came in the postgame show regarding Kansas City’s clock management, or lack thereof. The Chiefs threw the ball 46 times and ran it 32 times. Even allowing the injury to Charles surely impacted head coach Andy Reid’s thinking, you’re up by four touchdowns in the second half! At least try the run until the lead gets cut to one score and see how much time you can bleed.
- *Alex Smith played a fantastic game, 30/46 for 378 yards and no interceptions. But the Kansas City quarterback made three huge mistakes that will haunt him. With the score 41-31, Smith overthrew a wide open receiver down the sideline for what would have been a lockup touchdown. Instead, KC didn’t even get to field goal range. He fumbled outside the pocket when Kansas City still had command and had gotten to midfield. Finally, though this was mostly the fault of the offensive line, he committed intentional grounding on a screen pass call during the final drive that cost the Chiefs a chance at a winning field goal.
- *Now let’s come to Indianapolis and Andrew Luck. The media storyline is that Luck played poorly early, throwing three interceptions, before turning it on late and building what is already a good track record of comebacks in the second year of his career. I actually feel that’s too harsh on Luck. The biggest interception, when his team trailed 31-10, was clearly the fault of the receiver, who should have caught the ball even if it was a little behind him. Furthermore, Luck made some big plays even early in the game. He deserves only a portion of the blame for the early troubles, but most all of the credit for the comeback.
- *Luck got help from his offensive line. He was sacked just one time, and hit four more. His own deft mobility certainly helped, but this pass protection was one reason I felt Indianapolis was a good dark horse play to win the Super Bowl—they just don’t commit too many negative plays offensively, and the pass protection is a part of that. When you don’t commit negative plays, you can hang around, and the quarterback keeps his composure late.
- *Don’t overlook the importance of the Indianapolis running game. It had to take a reduced role because of the deficit, but Donald Brown got 55 yards on just 11 carries. Whether Indy goes to Denver or New England next week, they’ll need to get more of that.
- *When you look at the way Indianapolis won this game, you have to feel like there’s some destiny brewing in the Midwest. Think about the way the Baltimore Ravens stunned the Denver Broncos with the late touchdown pass in last year’s second round, then went to New England and won, then beat San Francisco. The one big caveat with this year’s Colts—destiny alone won’t be enough. They need another word starting with “d” to emerge next week, that being defense.
- *Which brings me to final point, and I’m going to sound like a grumpy old man, even if I’m in my early forties. As exciting as the finish was, games played the way this one was disgust me. It reaches a point where just watching the offenses go back and forth, knowing with 90 percent certainty that they’ll score, becomes boring. Furthermore, it’s always, first and foremost, an indictment of the defense, rather than a credit to the offense. It’s not that offensive play can’t be praise-worthy, but it is secondary.