INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Bruce Arians could have been excused for stifling a yawn while Andrew Luck was delivering yet another dose of heavy drama Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
He had seen this beat-the-clock act before. Many times, in fact.
“He just has that ability,’’ Arians said Monday morning, less than 24 hours after looking on from the CBS broadcast booth as Luck led the Indianapolis Colts from a 24-14 deficit to a 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
“It didn’t surprise me. He did it as a rookie.’’
Arians is in his first season as a color analyst for CBS. In 2012, he was the Colts’ offensive coordinator and assumed interim head coaching duties while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia.
Luck was the first overall pick in the draft and new face of the franchise.
With Luck – no pun intended – so much was possible for the Colts, who were young and rebooting following the Peyton Manning era.
The transition was immediate. After the Manning-less 2011 and 2-14 record, the Colts finished 11-5 and earned a wild-card playoff spot.
Credit Luck and his rookie ‘mates for making things happen late. They won seven times despite trailing in the fourth quarter.
“What he and T.Y. and those other rookies did that year was amazing, it really was,’’ said Arians, who was named NFL Coach of the Year for his hand in the quick turnaround. “Both tight ends (Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen), the running back (Vick Ballard), receivers (T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill), all of ‘em rookies.
“It was a crazy, crazy time, and Andrew led the band. So you knew he had it in him. It’s just so good to see him back healthy and playing that like.’’
Like what? Well, like he did against the Lions in Detroit in 2012.
When Jason Hanson converted a 31-yard field with 8:45 to play in the fourth quarter, the Colts trailed 33-21. And the situation only worsened on Indy’s ensuing possession when Luck’s third-down pass to Hilton was intercepted by safety Don Carey.
Only 6 minutes, 40 seconds remained.
Luck was upset with himself, but still focused on somehow, someway completing the long road back.
“He throws the interception and we’re down 12 or whatever it was,’’ Arians said. “He’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to win the game! Let’s go! Let’s go!’ He was telling the defense, ‘You stop ‘em and we’ll score.’
“I was like, ‘All right, let’s go.’ And he brought us back.’’
Luck’s 42-yard touchdown to Brazill narrowed Detroit’s lead to 33-28 with 2:47 remaining. After the defense forced a punt, he directed a closing 11-play, 75-yard drive that drained the clock and left the Lions in ruins.
Luck scrambled for 9 and 16 yards. He hit Reggie Wayne for 26 yards and Allen for 10. With 3 seconds to play, the Colts faced a fourth-and-10 – find a way or go home with a loss – at the Detroit 14. Arians’ play call flooded the end zone with receivers, but also had Donnie Avery running a left-to-right crossing route inside the 10. Luck floated the game-winner to Avery as time expired.
“That’s Andrew,’’ Arians said. “He is a fierce competitor.’’
That again was evident Sunday against Miami. The Colts were down 10 with 13 minutes, 36 seconds to play.
Adam Vinatieri, who would convert the game-winning 32-yard field goal as time expired, insisted there “was no panic.’’
“Andrew, man, he’s unbelievable, man,’’ Hilton said. “He’s a guy you want on your team. You’ve got to love to have him.’’
Over the game’s final 13-plus minutes, Luck and his supporting cast made play after play. He completed 11-of-12 passes for 133 yards, tossed a second TD to Ebron, this one for 12 yards that produced a 24-all tie with 4:25 to play, and put Vinatieri in position for a 46-yard field goal and the game-winning 32-yarder.
Luck has led the Colts to 52-35 record, including the playoffs, and 20 wins have required fourth quarter or overtime comebacks. Five times he’s rallied the Colts from double-digit fourth-quarter deficits.
“There are guys that just have a way of imposing their will on their teammates to win,’’ Arians said. “They find a way. Andrew’s one of those guys.’’
Arians’ TV responsibilities limited his ability to interact with Luck Sunday, but he nonetheless noticed the ever-present smile on Luck’s face and the obvious energy he’s bringing to the playing field.
“It’s fun to see him celebrate this,’’ Arians said. “He’s enjoying playing the game again so much.
“You can talk about how dark he was last Thanksgiving, not knowing, and how happy he is now, and how thankful. That fun just resonates around his teammates.’’
While enjoying Luck’s triumphant return after missing the 2017 season with his shoulder issues, Arians had a word of advice for the Colts: discard that Jacoby Brissett-to-Luck pass on fourth-and-1. It resulted in a 4-yard gain and a first down, but Luck’s right shoulder was driven into the ground after the catch.
“I hope they don’t throw him any more passes like that,’’ Arians said. “He gets hit enough.’’
Arians also chuckled when it was mentioned so many steadfastly believe the NFL is a 53-player venture, that it can’t be about one player.
“I’ll say this,’’ he replied. “If you have 52 guys and you don’t have (Luck), you don’t win five or six in a row.’’