Luck works his magic again at the end


HOUSTON – You might like for there to be a story from halftime where Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck turned over tables, shouted expletives and demanded that he be in charge of the offense. He had every reason to be upset after the pounding he took, inspiring the notion that he could be in for long rest of the season without Reggie Wayne to turn to.

Too bad that's not Luck's demeanor. This wasn’t a time for Luck to show a different side of himself. Not when he needed to keep the offensive line together and make sure his young receivers knew he had confidence in them.

Luck shook off one of the worst halves of his career to find a rhythm with his new go-to receiver and pick up yet another come-from-behind victory as the Colts won 27-24 over the Houston Texans.

“I would like to say there was a movie speech or something by him at halftime, but there really wasn’t,” Colts tight end Coby Fleener said. “He doesn’t surprise me. That’s the complex answer that I can give. Pretty much there’s nothing he does that surprises me.”

Really, Luck and the Colts aren’t purposely doing this to keep you on the edge of your seat. That's just how things have gone for them the past two seasons. Luck’s 10 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime are the most of any quarterback in their first two seasons since 1970.

You could take your pick as to which of those 10 come-from-behind victories is the best. Last season's wins over Detroit and Green Bay are probably up there. But a solid argument could be made that, considering the circumstances, Sunday’s game is at the top of the list.

The Colts were without Wayne for the first time in 189 games, and they were replacing Luck’s go-to receiver with T.Y. Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Griff Whalen, LaVon Brazill and David Reed. The latter three had combined for only 18 career catches heading into Sunday.

“That’s a work of art, what he does,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said of Luck. “He does it some kind of way. We don’t have a normal quarterback. We have a winner.”

It was obvious the Colts were adjusting without Wayne in the first half. Hilton dropped what should have been first-down completion on a third-and-4 in the first quarter. Luck was only 3-of-12 for 56 yards -- 44 of those yards coming on one completion -- and had been sacked three times. Most important, Houston was ahead 21-3.

The Colts looked done. There was no way they were going to come back against the Texans.

That may be the mind frame of some teams in such a predicament, but it’s not like that in Indianapolis. Coach Chuck Pagano has his team believing it’s never out of a game. It’s easy to believe Pagano when Luck is your quarterback.

“They were beating our butts,” Luck said. “We were getting our tail beat every which way possible. I think there was some frustration. There definitely was some frustration. I don’t think anybody was not frustrated. But I think cooler heads prevailed. We managed to stick through it.”

Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has been steadfast all season that the Colts would be a run-first football team. He finally changed his approach in the second half Sunday. Hamilton put the running game in a nearby wastebasket, and let Luck air it out.

Luck's favorite target was the player who stood in the back of the locker room at the Colts' training facility last week and said he wanted to make Wayne, whom he considers a big brother, proud by stepping up and playing his role.

Hilton shook off his early drop to catch six passes for 115 yards and three touchdowns, including one on which he lost his shoe, in the second half. He finished with seven catches for 121 yards.

“I said I wanted to step up because of what we’re trying to do without Reggie,” Hilton said. “I guess that drop woke me [up] and got me going.”

Hilton was his primary target, but Luck didn’t just key in on him. Luck completed passes to seven different receivers in the second half. That’s the approach Luck will have to take for the Colts to continue to move toward their first AFC South division title since 2010.

“You do have to make some adjustments when you don’t have a player of Reggie’s caliber out there,” Luck said. “Of course we miss him. It’s Reg, but we know our story is not going to involve him playing this year. Our guys did a great job of stepping up.”

Luck went into Sunday having completed only 23.8 percent of his pass attempts without Wayne on the field. He was 15-of-28 for 215 yards and three touchdowns, with only one sack, in the second half. In the fourth quarter, where he has starred so many times already, Luck was 6-of-8 for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

The Colts ran only four times in the second half, with three of those rushes coming on their final offensive series when they forced the Texans to use their final timeouts.

“I don’t know if there’s a tougher QB in the league and one that can make the plays under the duress that he was under and extend plays,” Pagano said. “The guy just continues to keep showing up late in games. What I told him is, there’s no reason we have to put ourselves in these holes.”