The history books will say that the difference in the Indianapolis Colts’ 35-33 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field was a 14-yard Donnie Avery touchdown reception on the game’s final play.

In reality, the difference can be traced to a single word that means something as different to both teams as the paths their seasons have taken:


For the Colts (8-4), the word seems to be an entirely fitting last name for Andrew, their rookie quarterback whose fourth-quarter poise and scrambling ability helped his team overcome a 12-point deficit to earn its third win this season after trailing in the final period.

“I thought [Luck] was outstanding in the last drive, especially overcoming some poor plays early in the game that we’ve still got to rectify on the road,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. “We found a way to win a big ball game on the road against a very quality opponent.”

For the Lions (4-8), the word luck represents the good fortune that has eluded Jim Schwartz’s team throughout a winless three-game homestand. The defeat gave Detroit the dubious distinction of becoming the only team to lose three straight home games when leading with two minutes remaining in regulation time since STATS LLC began tracking the exact times of scores in 1983.

“[Losing three straight at home and four in a row] is very frustrating,” Lions safety Louis Delmas said. “Just when you think that whatever you’re doing is right, it takes one play like the one that just lost us the game to know that you’re wrong.

“I want to say that it’s a learning experience, but it’s not, because we’ve been here before. We just can’t seem to finish on the long end of the stick and not the short one."

Midway through the fourth quarter, it looked as though Detroit had indeed done enough to get a win that would keep its slim playoff hopes alive. For 3 1/2 quarters, the Lions' defensive line made Luck look like an unsettled rookie. DTs Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh dominated the line of scrimmage, hurrying, hitting, and clearly affecting Luck on nearly every passing play. The pair combined for eight hits on Luck, and their pressure was responsible for all three of his interceptions.

Meanwhile, the Lions’ offense had built a two-score lead, largely thanks to improved accuracy from quarterback Matthew Stafford [27-46 passing for 313 yard and two TDs] and another elite-level performance from WR Calvin Johnson. Johnson finished the day with a career-high 13 catches for 171 yards and a score, and he was easily the best player on the field on either team.

“How many teams have stopped Johnson? None,” Colts CB Cassius Vaughn said. “I mean, he gets paid the big bucks for a reason and Calvin’s a great player. He’s the best player on that team hands down. We knew he was going to get his, but we were going to contain him as much as we could.”

The Colts made enough plays to stay in the game, however, and Luck found his form when it counted. He was 7-13 passing for 112 yards and two touchdowns on Indianapolis’ final two drives, and he scrambled for three key first downs. He was helped by a Lions’ team that lacked intensity at key points in the second half, missing opportunities to salt away the win.

“I feel like sometimes we just come out a little flat,” Lions RB Mikel Leshoure said. “[Sluggish play at the] beginning of the game, that was the offensive problem all year. I think it’s kind of [switched] now into the second half. We’re getting off to better starts but now with the lead we’re getting a little complacent, a little comfortable and we need to eliminate that.”

The game’s final play was a cruel reversal of fortune for the Lions. Indianapolis scored when Luck escaped the pocket, avoided Detroit’s rush, and found Avery in a check-down role in the flat. The play was almost a mirror image of Stafford’s check down pass to Kevin Smith that gave Detroit a Week 1 win over the Rams.

The loss all but eliminates the Lions from playoff contention, and Indianapolis remains in the thick of the AFC postseason chase. While Colts’ players waxed poetic about the dream season the team is having and their desire to win for absent coach Chuck Pagano, Delmas conceded that Lions’ players were now fighting for their jobs next season.

“You go in with the mindset of not knowing if you’ll be able to play another snap,” he said. “I’ve missed seven games this year, so I know how it feels to be sidelined. I’m going to go out there to try and perform for me and my teammates, knowing that the next snap is not guaranteed.”

When the game turned: The Ford Field crowd leapt to its feet with 10:28 remaining in the fourth quarter when Lions’ RB Joique Bell broke free in the Colts secondary and appeared to be headed for the end zone. Vaughn made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Colts’ 13-yard line, however, and the Indianapolis defense held Detroit to a field goal. If Bell had scored on the play, Detroit would have taken a 16-point lead, which would have been impossible for the Colts to overcome.

Highlight moments: Johnson’s signature moment in the game was a 32-yard one-handed catch early in the second quarter. Johnson made the grab despite glove-like coverage from Vaughn, controlling the ball with his hand and elbow. ... TE Brandon Pettigrew made his best catch of the season on a 16-yard, first-quarter touchdown pass from Stafford. His ability to make the play in double coverage should do wonders for his confidence as he battles ball security issues. ... Luck’s touchdown pass to college teammate Coby Fleener was Fleener’s only catch of the day, but the solid touch throw gave Luck some needed confidence. ... Colts WR LaVon Brazill’s touchdown catch from Luck with 2:39 remaining in regulation was an outstanding example of what can happen when receivers don’t give up on a play. Brazill noticed that Luck was scrambling in the pocket, and got open in the end zone after he noticed that Lions’ defenders had shifted to cover receivers nearer the line of scrimmage.

Top-shelf performances:

  • Lions S Don Carey -- Two interceptions.

  • Lions WR Calvin Johnson -- 13 catches, 171 yards, TD

  • Lions DT Ndamukong Suh -- Six tackles (four for loss), sack, six quarterback hits.

  • Lions O-line -- No sacks allowed.

  • Colts WR T. Y. Hilton  -- 6 catches, 100 yards

  • Colts WR Donnie Avery -- 5 catches, 91 yards, 2 TDs

  • Colts RB Vick Ballard -- 112 all-purpose yards (91 rushing, 21 receiving), TD

What they said about the game-winning score:

  • Lions coach Jim Schwartz -- “We did a poor job. We were protecting the end zone. The worst job was letting the quarterback escape. If we put the quarterback on the clock, if we don’t give him a place to scramble, he never finds [Avery] dragging across the field. …We have to do a better job of pass rushing. … Those are things we can’t do in a two-minute [situation], and that’s why we [gave up the play]."

  • Colts’ interim coach Bruce Arians -- “We had basically spread everybody across the back of the end zone, and ran Donnie (Avery) across the field as an outlet. I was hoping he’d catch it a little closer to the goal line. We knew [Detroit would] sink everybody back in [to the end zone]. I actually thought the game was over on Reggie’s [Wayne’s] incompletion [on the previous play]. It was a great play by Andrew getting out of there, scanning the field.”

  • Colts’ QB Andrew Luck -- “I figured [I’d], buy a little time and run around a little, maybe it’ll open up a window. You always hesitate throwing the ball not in the end zone, you know, for fear of the clock running out or a guy in bounds. …looking downfield, I guess took the calculated risk that Donnie (Avery) could get [to the end zone, and he did.”

What they said about Calvin Johnson’s performance:

  • Colts DE (and former Lion) Cory Redding -- “[Johnson’s] a beast. Every year as long as he’s in the League, I don’t care what he’s doing, he’s got my Pro Bowl vote. The guy’s an awesome kid. I remember him coming in as a rookie and just seeing his work ethic. And what he’s doing now, I expect that because he’s an unbelievable player and does great things. He’s truly a good teammate.”

  • Lions QB Matthew Stafford -- “Yeah, he’s a heck of a player. I even missed him on a couple, could have had a really big day. So still some things to iron out with him but obviously we leaned on him when (WR Ryan) Broyles went down. Then [TE Tony Scheffler was injured] for a little bit, so we leaned on him big time.”

  • Lions RB Kevin Smith -- “He’s the best receiver in the league by far, in my opinion. He just does what he’s supposed to do, makes difficult plays look easy. Good for him that he’s on the right direction on breaking [Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yards] record… He’s one of our guys. [Receiving yards are] a team effort; it’s pass protection, quarterback, other guys catching the ball during the game essentially helping him explode for big plays. [The record chase is] for Calvin Johnson, but it’s a team accolade that everybody can be proud of.”

Numbers you should know: Johnson’s 171 receiving yards give him 1,428 yards this season, 420 yards behind Jerry Rice’s single-season record of 1,848 receiving yards set in 1995. Johnson must average 105 yards per game -- 14 yards per game below his season average -- to break Rice’s record.

Injury update: Lions -- WR Ryan Broyles finished the game in street clothes after injuring his right knee. Schwartz would not offer an exact prognosis on the injury but called Broyles’ condition “a concern.” Colts -- T Winston Justice and G Joe Reitz each left Sunday’s game with concussions, and LB Justin Hickman was ruled out after he suffered a hamstring injury. Arians did not offer further comment on any of the players’ injuries.

Going forward: Lions -- Detroit’s difficult final four-game stretch begins with a trip to Lambeau Field -- where they haven’t won since 1991 -- to face Green Bay on Sunday Night football. Colts -- Indianapolis will look to bolster its playoff position by sweeping the season series with the Titans, who will visit Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 14.

Follow Lions reporter John Kreger on Twitter at @CBSLions and @JohnKreger.

For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Colts blogger Evan Hilbert, follow @CBSColts.