INDIANAPOLIS – Andrew Luck was sensational.
Ryan Tannehill was pretty darn good, too.
All that really mattered to the Colts was that Chuck Pagano was there to see a great duel between the rookie quarterbacks.
In a game that will be remembered for the quarterbacks' head-to-head matchup, Indianapolis gave Pagano an unforgettable memory in his first trip back to Lucas Oil Stadium since being diagnosed with a form of leukemia on Sept. 26. Luck threw for a rookie record 433 yards and two touchdowns, leading the surprising Colts past Miami 23-20.
"I don't think there was anybody in this locker room that wasn't not wanting to give everything to get a 'W' today for him," receiver Reggie Wayne said of his longtime friend and coach. "When he walked in after this victory it was tough, it was hard to hold everything back. You saw a bunch of teary eyes and everything. It was a big win for us, and it took everything we had just to get it done. It was even sweeter just to have him here to enjoy it."
Clearly, Indy (5-3) wanted Pagano around to partake in the fun and the growing talk about playoff possibilities.
And Pagano wanted to be there because, well, his team is playing his way.
The Colts traded jab for jab with the Dolphins (4-4), closing the game out in a manner befitting of Pagano's style — with two big defensive stops and Vick Ballard's 19-yard run for the game-sealing first down.
But the emotions on the field went far deeper than football.
After making an acrobatic catch for a 9-yard TD, Wayne celebrated by high-fiving fans in the back of the south end zone — right above the (hashtag)Chuckstrong sign. Interim coach Bruce Arians also showed a hint of emotion when he talked about Pagano coming back.
Pagano, meanwhile, provided the inspiration with his pregame and postgame speeches along with some perspective on the games themselves.
"I've got circumstances. You guys understand it, I understand it," Pagano told the team as it gathered around after the win. "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 timing couldn't have been better for Pagano, who is scheduled to begin a second round of chemotherapy later this week.
But players got their own morale boost from seeing their coach.
"I don't think I heard the first couple of sentences that came out of his mouth," Luck said. "I was just excited to see him there because that's the head coach talking."
Nobody was better than Luck on Sunday.
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. He topped Cam Newton's year-old record of 432 yards and tied another record by becoming the NFLs' second rookie quarterback to produce four 300-yard games in a season. The other: Peyton Manning, the quarterback he replaced.
It was an uncanny performance. In addition to Wayne's big catch, 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 the inspired Colts.
"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 difference was 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 got a slicing-and-dicing 18-yard TD run in the first half from Reggie Bush, a play that rekindled images of his college days, and the Dolphins eventually tied the score on Dan Carpenter's 31-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
But Luck answered immediately with a 13-play, 69-yard drive to set up Adam Vinatieri's decisive 43-yard field goal with 5:58 to go and the Colts wound up celebrating.
"I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a vision, and you weren't living in circumstances," Pagano said. "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."
NOTES: Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, the reigning AFC Special Teams player of the week, was credited with blocking Vinatieri's 54-yard field goal Sunday. ... 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. ... 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.
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