DETROIT — Andrew Luck was down to his last shot and his final option to lead the Indianapolis Colts to victory.
Luck dropped back, then moved up to avoid pressure and buy time for a teammate to get open, tossed a short pass to Donnie Avery, and the receiver did the rest — racing untouched for a 14-yard touchdown and giving the Colts a 35-33 comeback win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
“You always hesitate throwing the ball not in the end zone, for fear of the clock running out with a guy in bounds,” Luck said. “Took the calculated risk that Donnie could get there in the end zone, and he did.”
Luck made all the right moves when it mattered most, making his transition from Stanford to the NFL look relatively smooth to help Indy win a game in a way it hasn’t since just after his 1st birthday.
The last time the Colts scored a game-winning TD with no time remaining on the clock was Sept. 30, 1990, according to STATS LLC, to beat Philadelphia 24-23.
Luck has won more games (eight) than any rookie quarterback drafted No. 1 overall in the Super Bowl era. He broke the mark by Sam Bradford, who helped St. Louis win seven games two years ago, and also surpassed Jim Plunkett in New England during the 1971 season.
The Colts (8-4) stayed in control of the AFC wild-card race by winning for the sixth time in seven games. Luck helped them move a step closer toward being in the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons, only this time without Peyton Manning.
“Some teams find ways to win,” Indy interim coach Bruce Arian said. “Others don’t.”
The Lions (4-8) lost for the fourth straight time, including three in a row at home after leading in the final quarter.
They’re the first team to lose three straight games when leading with 2 minutes left in regulation since San Diego did it in 2000, according to STATS LLC, and the first since at least 1983 to blow leads that late in three home games in a row.
“This is a tough league for tough people, and we’ll find out now who is tough,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said.
Luck is — that’s for sure.
Ndamukong Suh, who was fined $30,000 for kicking Houston quarterback Matt Schaub last week, sacked Luck on his first snap and he was hit and hurried many more times by a hard-rushing front
On the game-winning play, though, Detroit let Luck run through a slowly collapsing pocket as the final seconds ticked away and he took advantage.
“If the pass rush does their job, he doesn’t get free the scramble and he never finds that receiver,” Schwartz said. “All game, we focused on taking away his step-up lanes, and then on the last play, we don’t do it.”
Luck, who was 24 of 54 for 391 yards with four TD passes, made up for matching a season-high three interceptions by doubling his previous season high with his final TD on the winning, fourth-down play that started with 3 seconds left.
He had two interceptions in the first half and threw a third in the fourth quarter. He has thrown 13 of his 16 interceptions on the road.
Fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton had six receptions for 100 yards and Avery had five catches for 91 yards and two scores, the first of which gave the Colts their only lead — until his second one won the game.
“I had no choice but to score,” Avery said. “It was the slowest 11 yards that I ever felt like I ran.”
Calvin Johnson had a career-high 13 receptions for 171 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown that gave Detroit a 30-21 lead late in the third quarter. Johnson made a one-handed grab that set up Mikel Leshoure’s TD in the second quarter. Johnson had at least 125 yards receiving for the fifth straight game, matching an NFL record set in 1966 by Pat Studstill with the Lions.
“Calvin Johnson is always a bright spot,” Schwartz said. “Maybe I should have had him on defense for the last play.”
Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick overall in 2009, was 27 of 46 for 313 yards with two TDs and an interception late in the first half that hurt his team’s chances of adding to its 24-13 lead.
Stafford also missed Johnson at times late in the game, including on the Lions’ last scoring drive when he threw behind him in the end zone and that led to Jason Hanson’s fourth field goal that gave them a 33-21 lead with 8:41 left.
Luck threw his third TD pass to LaVon Brazill to make it 33-28 with 2:39 left. Then, Nick Harris’ poor punt from the 50 gave Luck the ball at his 25 with 1:07 left and no timeouts and the quarterback pulled off another dramatic finish.
NOTES: Lions WR Ryan Broyles (right knee) left the game, leaving the team thin at the position because it left Titus Young inactive because of his behavior and previously lost Nate Burleson to a season-ending knee injury. … Colts OL Joe Reitz left in the first quarter and didn’t return after undergoing a concussion evaluation. … Indy rookie TE Coby Fleener, who missed the previous four games with a shoulder injury, made a twisting, 26-yard TD catch in the second quarter. … Tigers star Miguel Cabrera was wearing a Suh jersey, as one of his guests at the game.