INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Pagano provided the inspiration, then Andrew Luck delivered a record-setting performance in yet another win for the surprising Indianapolis Colts.
After a 23-20 victory over Miami, the ailing coach offered even more encouragement.
Picked by many to be among the NFL’s weakest team, the rebuilding Colts are now in the playoff conversation at 5-3.
“I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a vision, and you weren’t living in circumstances,” Pagano said Sunday, surrounded by his players and with interim Bruce Arians at his side after the Colts’ third straight win. “You know where they had us in the beginning, every last one of them. But you refused to live in circumstances and you decided consciously as a team and as a family to live in a vision, and that’s why you bring things home like what you bring home today. That’s why you’re already champions and well on your way.
Luck wasn’t too concerned that he had just broken Cam Newton’s year-old record for yards passing in a game by a rookie or even that his team had another victory. He just wanted to live up to the message from his coach, who has been receiving treatment for leukemia since being diagnosed on Sept. 26.
“His presence is felt every day in the facility,” Luck said. “But to see him in the flesh, in the locker room, to hear him speak I think gave all the guys a boost.”
It seemed to give Pagano a boost, too.
“I’ve got circumstances. You guys understand it, I understand it,” Pagano told them. “It’s already beat. It’s already beat. My vision that I’m living is to see two more daughters get married, dance at their weddings and then lift the Lombardi Trophy several times. I’m dancing at two more weddings and we’re hoisting that trophy together, men. Congratulations, I love all of you.”
The Colts have now won more than twice as many games in half a season as they did in 16 games last year, and this week’s discussion will again focus on Luck’s astounding start, Pagano’s inspiring message and talk of reaching the playoffs.
Luck threw for 433 yards and two touchdowns. He topped Newton’s mark of 422 and tied another by becoming the NFLs’ second rookie quarterback to produce four 300-yard games in a season. The other: Peyton Manning, the quarterback he replaced.
Pagano wasn’t forgotten on the field, either. Reggie Wayne traded high-fives with fans right above the (hash)Chuckstrong sign in the south end zone after scoring a 9-yard touchdown.
Luck had it all working against the Dolphins (4-4). He completed 30 of 48 passes, converted 13 of 19 third-down chances and remained under control even when he started moving around in the pocket.
It was an uncanny performance with Wayne hauling in a high pass with an incredible toe-tap on the end line. Rookie T.Y. Hilton made a leaping 36-yard TD catch that Luck threw into double coverage, and no matter what the Dolphins did, they couldn’t stop Luck or a Colts team that knew Pagano was in the coaches’ box.
“We knew we’d have to disrupt him (Luck) a little bit. But we weren’t detailed enough, we weren’t disciplined enough on our rush,” Miami coach Joe Philbin said. “When you have the No. 1 defense on third down, and when a team converts 69 percent of the time on third down, it’s a different feel.”
The matchup between two of this season’s rookie quarterbacks and two of this season’s biggest surprise teams was every bit as good as advertised.
There was only one first-half punt. The teams combined for 881 total yards without any turnovers, and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, who was limited in practice all week and considered questionable, was 22 of 38 for 290 yards with one TD.
The difference: Luck just made more big plays.
“The kid, he continues to amaze,” Wayne said after catching seven passes for 78 yards. “Hopefully I can help, you know, add on to his legacy that he’s about to build.”
About to? He’s already well on his way.
With the Colts trailing 17-13, Luck hooked up with Hilton on the leaping grab to make it 20-17 with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
Miami tied the score on Dan Carpenter’s 31-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, and then Luck immediately led the Colts on a 13-play, 69-yard drive to set up Adam Vinatieri’s decisive 43-yard field goal with 5:58 to go.
Indy’s defense stopped the Dolphins on their final two possessions and Indy sealed the win with a Vick Ballard’s 19-yard run with under a minute to go — a fitting end for the man who promised to win games with defense and power football when he was first hired as coach last winter.
But on Sunday, the Colts were just glad he was around to watch it all in person.
NOTES: Colts defensive end Robert Mathis sacked Tannehill in the first quarter, giving him a sack in his eighth straight game. …. Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake recorded a sack in his fifth consecutive game. … Wayne’s TD moved him past former college and pro teammate Edgerrin James into third on the franchise’s career list with 76 TDs…. Indianapolis honored the new WNBA champion Indiana Fever just before halftime. … Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake recorded a sack in his fifth consecutive game. … The Colts had a long postgame injury list that included cornerback Jerraud Powers (toe), right tackle Winston Justice (knee), running back Donald Brown (knee), receiver Donnie Avery (hip), outside linebacker Robert Mathis (back) and center Samson Satele (back). … Miami linebacker Kevin Burnett, cornerback Nolan Carroll and defensive tackle Paul Soliai all sustained undisclosed injuries.