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Sam Farmer / On the NFL

Colts' upset of Packers packs emotional punch

Andrew Luck passes for 362 yards and two TDs, and Indianapolis plays an inspired game as Coach Chuck Pagano watches from hospital after his leukemia diagnosis.

October 08, 2012|Sam Farmer

There is no statistic for emotion. No index for inspiration. No chart for heart.

And Sunday, there was no stopping the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts, with cancer-stricken Coach Chuck Pagano watching from a local hospital, overcame an 18-point deficit at home to pull off an unforgettable 30-27 upset of Green Bay.

"We're just so happy for Chuck," said rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who completed 31 of 55 passes for 362 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. "Hopefully, this uplifts him in some sense or some fashion. I'm happy to be a part of this moment with this franchise."

What began with an email — a motivating message from Pagano to his team — ended with an airmail, a four-yard toss from Luck to Reggie Wayne for the go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds left.

But the game wasn't quite over. The Packers came back and moved into position to tie. But with three seconds left, Green Bay's Mason Crosby was wide on a 51-yard field-goal try.

Pagano noticed this summer that he was especially fatigued and bruised easily, but he didn't take time to get it checked out until last week, when the Colts were on their bye. Doctors ran a battery of tests on him and determined he had leukemia, immediately admitting him to the intensive care unit of an Indianapolis hospital.

"My condition will not determine my position," Pagano, who celebrated his 52nd birthday Tuesday, wrote to his players. "I understand the condition but choose to focus on my position. That is to stay positive and serve. We will, we can, we must. We have no choice. By any means necessary. We will overcome."

Against the Packers, that meant clawing their way out of a 21-3 hole in the second half. Leading the charge was Luck, the former Stanford star who is remarkably poised for a player of any age, let alone a rookie.

Bruce Arians, himself a cancer survivor, was promoted from offensive coordinator to interim coach. He knows the Packers well, as he was offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh when the Steelers played Green Bay in the Super Bowl. In honor of Pagano, Arians' players wore T-shirts reading "Chuckstrong" — a variation of Lance Armstrong's "Livestrong" — and even Packers players wore them before Sunday's game.

Wayne wore orange gloves, rather than the pink ones signifying breast cancer awareness month, because orange is the color for leukemia patients.

"I just wanted to do something, you know, for Chuck," Wayne said. "I had some equipment guys make some calls."

The Luck-to-Wayne connection accounted for 13 receptions and 212 yards, and bridged two eras, the No. 1 overall pick hooking up with Peyton Manning's longtime go-to receiver.

The Colts were seven-point underdogs, and the game pitted teams that were at opposite ends of the performance spectrum last season. The Manning-less Colts were 2-14. The Packers were 15-1.

Luck is the first rookie to pass for more than 1,200 yards (1,208) and lead his team to at least two victories in his club's first four games. He and Carolina's Cam Newton are the only players to pass for at least 300 yards in three of their first four NFL games.

After Sunday's emotional victory, Arians said of Luck: "I wouldn't trade him for anyone in the universe."

Sacked and smacked

Tough day for a couple of quarterbacks.

Washington's Robert Griffin III and Kansas City's Matt Cassel were knocked out of their games after absorbing shots to the head.

The Redskins said Griffin sustained a mild concussion when he was hit midway through the third quarter. On third and goal at the three-yard line, he rolled right against Atlanta and tried to tuck the ball and run. While in the process of sliding toward the sideline, he was drilled in the head by Falcons linebacker Sean Witherspoon. It was a legal hit because Griffin was technically a runner at the time, and the play was recorded as a sack for a loss of two.

Griffin lay face down on the turf for a few moments before groggily climbing to his feet and walking slowly across the field to the Washington sideline. He sat on the bench, where the medical staff stitched his chin. He was walked to the locker room, briefly reemerged, then headed back inside.

"When he wasn't really sure what the score was, what quarter it was, we knew he had a mild concussion," Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said.

Cassel was injured when hit by Baltimore's Haloti Ngata while completing a pass in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs quarterback had four turnovers against the Ravens, and some in the crowd at Arrowhead Stadium cheered when he lay hurt on the turf.

Kansas City tackle Eric Winston said he was sickened by that fan reaction.

"We are athletes. We are not gladiators," Winston said. "This isn't the Roman Colosseum. People pay their hard-earned money to come in here. I believe they can boo, they can cheer, they can do whatever they want. . . .

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