INDIANAPOLIS - Maybe this is where the projected Hall of Fame journey gathers momentum — in the final minute of a tie game with the No. 1 pick of the 2012 draft doing what the Colts expect him to do for a decade or longer.
Game-winning drive? Hey, Andrew Luck just wanted to give it a try, handling the moment with such tranquility you’d have thought he was out walking his dog.
Luck sure didn’t seem fazed by the pressure. Not the figurative kind that had heightened after Indianapolis blew a 20-6 lead in the final 10 minutes Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. And not the literal kind either, the heat coming from the Vikings’ defense as they tried to steal yet another improbable victory.
Instead, in the final half-minute, Luck delivered two consecutive 20-yard completions to Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne. Just like that, in 19 seconds, Luck propelled Indianapolis from its own 20 into position for Adam Vinatieri to kick his game-winning 53-yard field goal.
Final score: Colts 23, Vikings 20.
This is the easy story, the one about the promising rookie who stepped up in the clutch and made sure his encouraging afternoon didn’t sour.
“He doesn’t get rattled,” said his coach Chuck Pagano. “He sees the field. He understands the offense extremely well. He knows exactly what he’s getting because he puts the time in … There’s no panic to the kid.”
Yes, Luck showed all sorts of calm, savvy and athleticism, especially on his first throw of that final drive when he spun, rolled left and put a dart into Avery’s sternum. But to truly understand how Luck recorded his first NFL victory, it’s only proper to contextualize the day by documenting all the costly mistakes the Vikings made, a grab bag of blunders so deep that the classroom sessions at Winter Park promise to be intense this week.
Above all else, there were those 11 penalties committed by nine different Vikings for 105 yards.
Few proved more costly than the 15-yarders committed by Andrew Sendejo and Jared Allen in the third quarter, gifts which allowed the Colts to prolong a 14-play field goal drive. That produced a 20-6 Indianapolis lead.
Sendejo was flagged for roughing Colts punter Pat McAfee, even though replays show the contact may have been minimal or non-existent.
Three plays later, Allen dived and tackled Luck as he crossed the sideline on a meaningless 1-yard run on third-and-16.
“I still don’t think it’s a penalty,” Allen said. “They can say what they want … I didn’t even hit him with my shoulder pads. I hit him with my arm. This is football I thought.”
Three times Sunday, the Colts put together scoring drives of nine plays or longer, including a 13-play, 80-yard stampede on their opening drive. There was also the touchdown they scored with 7 seconds before halftime when, on third-and-3, Wayne easily steered through the Vikings’ Cover 2 zone to snag a 30-yard touchdown pass.
The postgame fingers pointed at linebacker Erin Henderson for failing to drop deep enough in the coverage.
“That’s something we’ve talked about and something we’ve worked on,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier explained. “We put him in that spot, and we’ve just got to execute our assignments. We didn’t on that play.”
But expecting Henderson to hang with Wayne by himself is risky business. Plus, the Colts might never have had the ball for that score if Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder had not badly missed on a third-and-6 throw to a wide-open Percy Harvin on the previous series.
Yep, the Vikings were left to recap Sunday’s failure with so many of the neatly packaged explanations they ran into the ground a year ago.
“We did some things today that really hurt us, where we hurt ourselves,” Frazier said.
“That’s the NFL,” cornerback Antoine Winfield added. “Like last year, we lost a lot of close games. We have to tighten it up.”
Sure, there were a few bright signs. Harvin, for example, delivered 12 catches for 104 yards. Ponder (27-for-35, 245 yards, two TDs) also hung tough, producing two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that again displayed his ability to rally after adversity.
If you’re big on silver linings, maybe that was encouraging.
“I’m not into silver linings,” Allen said. “It’s like taking your sister to the prom. We have to win football games. It doesn’t matter how you win them, where you win 'em, we’ve got to win. And this is a game we should have won.”