INDIANAPOLIS -- Andrew Luck pulling off fourth-quarter heroics isn’t anything surprising. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback did it seven times during his impressive rookie season. So having Luck bail his team out in a 21-17 victory Sunday against the Oakland Raiders shouldn’t be eye-opening from that aspect.
But it really shouldn’t have come to Luck’s 19-yard touchdown run down the middle of the field that was as wide as nearby Interstate-70.
Not after the Colts went out and added three starters -- two offensive linemen and a receiver -- to go with another running back to complement Vick Ballard during the offseason. And not against an Oakland team that featured nine starters on defense.
Scoring shouldn’t have been a problem against the Raiders.
It didn’t seem like it would be that way with Luck sitting back in the pocket and picking apart the Raiders’ defense on his first 11 throws, Ballard giving hope of the Colts having a balanced offensive attack with some impressive runs early, and a 14-0 lead after their first two series.
But that’s when things changed for the Colts. Changed so much that you were left wondering if this was going to be the 2012 season all over again with Luck having to scramble for his life from the pressure. And -- with this being the most important part -- Luck coming through when necessary at the end of the game.
“We know it’s tough to get wins in the National Football League,” Luck said. “Obviously you don’t want it. You don't want to have to go down to the wire every game. Oakland, tough guys, tough team. Defensively, they did a great job.”
Tough is the last thing the Raiders were on Indianapolis’ first two drives.
The Colts ran five runs and five passes on their 89-yard opening drive that ended with tight coverage by cornerback Tracy Porter on receiver Reggie Wayne but an even better throw by Luck in the corner of the end zone.
The second drive was just as easy for Luck & Co.
It wasn’t until the final play of the drive -- a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dwayne Allen -- that the Raiders finally got some legit pressure on Luck. He was able to get the pass off despite being clobbered by 305-pound Raiders defensive tackle Vance Walker just as he released the ball.
"Nothing crazy, out of the ordinary, but you got a guy like that, it sure makes you feel good," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.
It was at that moment that you had to wonder whether Luck was going to have one of those magical afternoons.
Why wouldn’t you think it?
After the first two series, Luck was 8-of-8 for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and he'd had barely any pressure on him.
But it was then that the Raiders finally got after it defensively.
As quarterback Terrelle Pryor was causing havoc with his feet, the Raiders’ defense dialed in on Luck with pressure.
The Colts gained 62 yards on their four series leading up to their game-winning drive. Oakland got all four of its sacks during those four series. The Raiders’ best defensive stand came when the Colts went for it on fourth-and-1 at Oakland’s 43-yard line. Defensive end Jason Hunter was able to drag Luck down for a 13-yard loss.
It was only natural to start having flashbacks to last season, when Luck was sacked 41 times. The Raiders used the short field to score a touchdown and take a 17-14 lead.
“It’s self-inflicted wounds,” Pagano said. “You have negative plays. ... Credit them for making those plays, but it’s awful hard to stay ahead of the chains and stay on track.”
All was forgotten about six minutes later when Luck saw that Wayne was double-teamed and that the middle of the field was wide-open.
Luck tucked the ball, took off and, with the help of a Darrius Heyward-Bey block, broke left and into the end zone for yet another one of his come-from-behind victories.
“We went out there and he said, ‘This is going to be the drive, this is going to be the drive to win the game right here,’” Wayne said. “He is always confident, and he knows what he can do with his ability. He plays like he is a 15-year vet.”
But the Colts don't want to have to keep relying on Luck bailing them out in the fourth quarter the way he did Sunday.