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Colts/NFL

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Highlights, lowlights
Best game: Somehow the Colts rallied from a 28-point second-half deficit to beat Kansas City 45-44 for the second-greatest comeback in postseason history.
Worst game: In a season with too many inexplicable double-digit losses, nothing was worse than the 38-8 loss to St. Louis at home.
Best play: Hard to top the perfect 64-yard TD pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton late against Kansas City to finish that seemingly implausible playoff comeback. Hilton was wide open down the middle and Luck hit him in stride.
Worst play: When Rams punt returner Tavon Austin picked up a bouncing ball at his own 2-yard line and sprinted down the sidelines for a 98-yard TD return. Many of the Colts stopped, thinking the play was over.
Biggest surprise: The emergence of Donald Brown. He had shown glimpses of living up to his first-round draft status but played well enough this season to beat out Trent Richardson for the starting job and perhaps earn a new deal from Indianapolis.
Biggest disappointment: Losing Reggie Wayne late in a win over Denver. It not only mitigated the celebration of beating Peyton Manning and the Broncos, it sent the Colts into six weeks of inconsistency.
What’s next: Figuring out who to re-sign and keeping enough room under the salary cap to keep plugging holes on defense, along the offensive line and at receiver.
Associated Press
Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts head into the offseason after 11 regular-season wins and a playoff victory. They were beaten in the divisional round by the Patriots on Saturday.

Luck: Colts’ future bright despite loss

– Andrew Luck watched the game tape one more time Monday morning.

While it didn’t change anything that happened in Saturday night’s frustrating playoff loss at New England, it did help Luck head into the offseason with a bit of optimism.

The Colts, he figures, are off to a good start. If he can clean things up in the postseason, well, the future looks even brighter for one of the league’s youngest teams.

“It’s good motivation and it’s a learning tool. I’ve got to look at it as a learning tool,” the newly clean-shaven Luck said Monday after throwing four interceptions Saturday and seven in the playoffs. “I think offensively we got better. I think with guys coming back (from injuries), hopefully we can keep taking steps forward. I think we really improved as an offensive unit.”

In two NFL seasons, Luck has presided over some historic feats. After engineering a stunning nine-game turnaround, from 2-14 to 11-5 and a return to the playoffs in 2012, he faced the challenge of a tougher schedule. Luck made it look easy.

Indy won 11 regular-season games and this time captured its first AFC South crown since the Peyton Manning era. Luck became only the third Colts quarterback since John Unitas in 1971 to win a playoff game, joining Manning and Jim Harbaugh.

It wasn’t just that Luck and the Colts (12-6) went deeper into the playoffs and pulled off the second-greatest comeback in postseason history, rallying from a 28-point second-half deficit to beat Kansas City 45-44. Indy beat also three teams – Denver, San Francisco and Seattle – that are still playing.

The Colts did all that despite making a major change, going from a vertical passing game to a power-running offense.

Luck threw fewer times for fewer yards, but his completion percentage went up, his touchdown total remained steady (23) and the number of sacks and interceptions each dropped by nine. He worked without having his favorite target, Reggie Wayne, for the second half of the season; and without his top two running backs, Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw, his top tight end, Dwayne Allen, or left guard Donald Thomas since September.

Wayne, Allen, Ballard and Thomas are all expected to be healthy for training camp.

“If we go back to work and everybody gets 1-2 percent better at their craft and what they do, and you combine all that … ” coach Chuck Pagano said, pausing. “Again, we didn’t reach our ultimate goal. We’re going to keep chasing it. We always will. That will never change.”

Plenty could change between now and September.

Seven players who started at New England are slated to become free agents. That list includes running back Donald Brown, safety Antoine Bethea, cornerback Vontae Davis, punter Pat McAfee and kicker Adam Vinatieri. The Colts are expected to have roughly $31 million under the salary cap, enough room to re-sign some of those key players and still fill defensive holes.

Offensively, they’re likely to continue seeking help along the line to protect their franchise quarterback, and perhaps add another receiver.

But if the Colts are going to attain their biggest goal – hoisting the Lombardi Trophy – the most important piece may be Luck himself.

“I tried to start thinking about the season and all I can think about is this past game against the Patriots and turning the ball over,” he said. “But I’m proud to be a part of this team. Proud to get to the playoffs. But that wasn’t our goal. We wanted to win a Super Bowl, just like every other team out there. We’ll work to do that this offseason.”

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