INDIANAPOLIS -- The thing about these among-the-greatest-of-all-time games is how unlikely it all seems at some point.
In Saturday's Colts-Chiefs playoff game, that point came on the first play of the third quarter when Andrew Luck threw his second interception of the game, setting the stage for Kansas City to take a 28-point lead.
With less than a half to go, this one seemed to be over.
But that also set the stage for the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history as Luck led the Colts to a breathtaking 45-44 win at Lucas Oil Stadium. Only the Bills' 41-38 overtime win over the Oilers -- a game in which Buffalo trailed 35-3 -- in the 1992 AFC playoffs was a bigger playoff comeback.
Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns to overcome three interceptions and put the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs for a potential matchup with the quarterback he replaced, Peyton Manning.
If the Bengals beat the Chargers in Sunday's first-round game in Cincinnati, it will be Luck vs. Manning in Denver next Sunday. If the Chargers win, it will be Luck vs. Tom Brady in New England on Saturday night.
"This team never panicked," Luck said. "Up big, down big, first quarter, fourth quarter. Let's just play football. On the sideline, we were like, you don't have to do anything special. There's no 28-point score. Guys just stepped up. Everybody on offense had three really big plays."
Luck had many, many more than that. Especially at the end, when he hit second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton on a 64-yard strike down the middle to tie the score at 44 with 4:21 left in the fourth quarter. Hilton got behind the Chiefs' defense, caught a perfectly thrown ball and was able to just about jog into the end zone. Adam Vinatieri's extra point provided the winning margin.
"I'm just so exhausted from a game like this that it's hard to realize it's one of the greatest games ever," said Hilton, who set franchise playoff records with 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns. "When that ball was in the air, I was like, 'Here it is.' Once I scored, I was going to throw the ball into the crowd, but I just decided to jump up in the air and spike it."
Hilton's touchdown capped a furious comeback that started shortly after Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith gave the Chiefs a four-touchdown lead with a 10-yard scoring pass to backup running back Knile Davis. Davis played most of the game after Pro Bowl tailback Jamaal Charles suffered a concussion on Kansas City's first drive and did not return.
Smith threw for 378 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, but it was Luck's second-half brilliance that proved to be the difference. He led the Colts to scoring drives of 80 and 41 yards, with running back Donald Brown scoring both touchdowns to get the Colts within 38-24.
After Ryan Succop gave Kansas City a 41-24 lead with a 42-yard field goal late in the third quarter, Luck hit tight end Coby Fleener with a 12-yard touchdown pass to make it 41-31. Luck later recovered Brown's fumble at the Chiefs' 5 and reached the end zone to make it 41-38.
After Succop's 43-yard field goal extended Kansas City's lead to 44-38, Luck and Hilton connected on the long touchdown pass to complete the comeback.
"Great team victory, one for the ages," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "Never seen anything quite like it. At the end of the day, we had one more point than they had and did just enough to win a football game and advance in the tournament."
Colts owner Jim Irsay, who had the good fortune of drafting Luck just a few weeks after releasing Manning, said: "It's incredible to see what Andrew has done so quickly. He'd probably be a top 15 tight end as an athlete and probably be at NASA getting ready to go on a Mars mission if he wanted to be an astronaut. He's that type of kid. To see a guy accomplish so much so soon, it's amazing."