Just a few minutes into the second quarter, it seemed Colts fans could kick back and enjoy a Sunday on Easy Street.
The Colts led the Raiders 14-0 and seemed as if they could muster points at will. Quarterback Andrew Luck was 8-for-8 passing the ball, would go on to complete his first 11 attempts, and was in mid-season form.
The Colts ran the ball reasonably well. Even a questionable offensive line was on task, creating holes for running back Vick Ballard and giving Luck time to dissect the Raiders.
And this was, after all, the Raiders — a franchise last relevant in the early 2000s. In front of a packed house at Lucas Oil Stadium on opening day, it seemed there was no way the Colts would be on the wrong end of a silver-and-black attack.
We should have known better than that.
Gradually, the Colts lost the plot as the Raiders brought more heat down upon Luck and the Colts offense fizzled. Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor conjured just the right mix of field general discipline and dazzling improvisation with legs that Colts defenders will have nightmares about.
By the fourth quarter, Oakland led 17-14. Time to panic? No way. Close games are how the Colts roll.
On cue, Luck led an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive, a series that included three third-down conversions. The last was a 19-yard go-ahead touchdown run up the gut by Luck as the Raiders parted the seas of their defense by over-committing to the Colts receivers. It left Marion County-sized acreage for Luck to take it to the house.
Oakland drove into the red zone, but Antoine Bethea’s interception at the 5-yard line sealed the deal with 25 seconds left.
Another bullet dodged. But since when is that a surprise?
The Colts dodge bullets. It’s what they do. They’re past masters of it.
The Colts don’t put teams away. They don’t dominate. They make it interesting. They make it frustrating. They make you sweat. They make you swear. They scare you. They make you question how good they really are.
Then they make you feel good because they win. Every single time.
“Yeah, I guess fans shouldn’t leave early. I don’t think Colts fans ever do,” Luck said.
That seems perfectly fine with the Colts so long as the W is theirs.
“We talk about playing 60 minutes. One play at a time, don’t judge,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We came out smoking. Then you hit a lull. They score 10 unanswered, but that’s why you play 60 minutes.”
This is nothing new of course. In 2012, 10 of the Colts’ 11 wins were decided by eight points or less. The Colts earned an AFC wild card bid despite a point differential of minus-30 and were the only NFL team to make the playoffs with their points in arrears.
If you’re into the mathematical thing, the Colts “expected,” or Pythagorean, win-loss record in 2012 was 7-9. They’re on that path again.
Pythagoras might have been great mathematician, but he never had a theorem to account for Luck.
The Colts have imperfect offensive personnel, but with someone like Luck to paper over deficiencies, anything is possible.
Protection falls apart, the running game performs in fits and starts, no matter. Luck is never rattled. Only once, when he gave up a 13-yard sack on fourth down during the fourth quarter, did he make a decision that was remotely questionable.
He’s too good to let a game get away from him, and when the games comes back to him, he’s always ready to take it.
It’s why even though every fiber of my being and every bit of football I’ve watched in 35 years tells me that the law of averages is eventually going to come back to bite the Colts in close games, Luck will keep it from happening.
“Obviously, you don’t want it to go down to the wire every game,” Luck said. “I think something this team has is some fortitude, some backbone. We managed to eke it out again, I guess.”
The bullets are probably going to keep coming at the Colts. It’s going to be fun to watch Luck and company dodge some more as the 2013 season plays out.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at 812-231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.