INDIANAPOLIS — Peyton Manning did not win his first playoff game until his sixth season but left the kind of legacy in this city that will be difficult to top.
His successor, Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick a year ago, won his first playoff game in his second try in a matchup Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium that will be remembered for years. Now the quarterbacks with this town in common could be headed to a meeting in the playoffs' divisional round next weekend.
Luck engineered the second-biggest comeback in playoff history, passing for 443 yards and four touchdowns and scooping up a fumble and scoring in a 45-44 victory over the Chiefs.
It was the seventh time Luck has rallied the Colts from a double-digit deficit but the first that drew parallels to the Buffalo Bills-Houston Oilers classic from 21 years ago. Led by journeyman backup Frank Reich, the Bills overcame a 32-point deficit. Luck's profile as a 24-year-old franchise player is much different, but his effort was similar in rallying the Colts from a seemingly insurmountable 38-10 hole in the third quarter.
The Colts will travel to Denver to face Manning and the Broncos if the Bengals, a touchdown favorite, defeat the Chargers on Sunday. Otherwise, they will head to New England to play the Patriots.
The Colts did almost nothing right in the first half and spotted the Chiefs another touchdown to start the third quarter when Husain Abdullah intercepted Luck's first pass of the half to set up Alex Smith's fourth touchdown toss. Smith was terrific, completing 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards, but lost a fumble on Robert Mathis' strip/sack in the third quarter that led to a Colts score.
Luck had low moments. He had three passes intercepted by a defense that led the NFL in points off turnovers, and running back Trent Richardson lost a fumble on the Colts' 20-yard line to add to the problems.
"I felt like I was trying to lose the game," Luck said. "I was disappointed in myself, angry. I really felt like I was letting the team down. You have to flush it. You have to forget about it. Guys trusted me to right my wrongs."
He directed five touchdown drives in the second half, and the Chiefs were dismantled in the process. They lost five players, three of them Pro Bowlers, to injury during the game.
Running back Jamaal Charles left with a concussion on the game's opening series. Wide receiver Donnie Avery suffered a concussion shortly after a 79-yard touchdown reception. Cornerback Brandon Flowers went out with a concussion and backup running back Knile Davis was lost to a knee injury. Outside linebacker Justin Houston, the team's best pass rusher, left with a knee injury the play before Luck fired the game-winning 64-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton, who caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, with 4:42 remaining.
"Our mind-set really never changed," said Colts tight end Coby Fleener, who caught a touchdown pass. "Whether we were down 21 or 28, there was no one play that was going to get us back in the game."
Without a running game, the Chiefs had to pass, and though Smith was dynamic, he couldn't maintain the hot streak. A potential game-winning drive ended near field-goal range on an incomplete pass to Dwayne Bowe on fourth and 11.
It was a brutal ending for the Chiefs, who were 2-14 a year ago before Coach Andy Reid arrived. The Chiefs have not won a playoff game in 20 years.
"One for the ages," Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said. "Never seen anything quite like it. These guys have more heart and grit than anybody I've ever been around."