INDIANAPOLIS -- The Kansas City Chiefs may yet win a playoff game someday. Maybe it will be next year, in coach Andy Reid's second season. Or possibly the following season.
But the franchise's 20-year postseason drought continued on Saturday night with the most painful loss of all.
Worse than Lin Elliott. Worse than Elvis Grbac. Even more excruciating than the double-overtime loss to Miami on Christmas night of 1971.
In a colossal 28-point collapse, the Chiefs fell 45-44 to the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC wild-card game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Kansas City led by as much as 38-10 early in the third quarter, but as key players -- running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, wide receiver Donnie Avery, cornerback Brandon Flowers and outside linebacker Justin Houston all left the game with injuries -- the Chiefs could not hold on.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck hit wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a 64-yard touchdown pass with 4:21 to play for the victory. Hilton, who caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, got behind safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps.
The loss extended the Chiefs' NFL record for postseason defeats to eight in a row dating to their last playoff win on Jan. 16, 1994 at Houston. And four of those losses -- 1995, 2003, 2006 and 2012 seasons -- were to the Colts.
The Chiefs lost despite rolling up their most points in a postseason game in franchise history -- topping the 31 accomplished twice, including a 38-31 loss to Indianapolis in 2003 -- without their best player, Charles. He suffered a concussion when carrying the ball on the sixth play of the game and did not return.
Avery and Flowers also suffered concussions, and Charles' replacement, Knile Davis, limped off the field with 9:43 left in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. Outside linebacker Justin Houston came off the field with 4:44 left.
The Chiefs sorely missed them as the Colts pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL playoff history.
Only the Buffalo Bills' 41-38 win over Houston in the 1992 playoffs, in which the Bills overcame a 32-point deficit, was a greater comeback.
The Colts, down 38-10 early in the third quarter, got within 41-38 with 10:38 to play when Luck scored on a 5-yard fumble recovery. Chiefs safety Eric Berry popped the ball from running back Donald Brown at the goal line, the ball caromed off the helmet of guard Samson Satale and into the arms of Luck, who ran it in.
The Chiefs, with backup wide receivers Junior Hemingway and A.J. Jenkins and running back Cyrus Gray in the lineup, bought some breathing space with a 43-yard field goal by Ryan Succop -- his third of the game -- for a 44-38 lead with 5:36 to play.
Luck, who has staged 10 fourth-quarter or overtime comeback wins in his two-year career, made this one look easy.
It took four plays to do it. Luck converted a third and five with an 11-yard pass to tight end Coby Fleener to keep the drive going. Then he arched the pass downfield that broke the Chiefs' hearts.
The Chiefs still had 4:21 left and a timeout, and quarterback Alex Smith moved the offense into Indianapolis territory for a shot at a game-winning field goal.
But from the Indianapolis 39, Smith was called for intentional grounding when he let go of a pass while getting hit in the pocket, creating a third-and-17. He hit Dexter McCluster on a shallow crossing pattern for 6 yards.
After the 2-minute warning, on fourth and 11, Smith aimed a pass for Dwayne Bowe along the sidelines, but it went incomplete.
And pandemonium ensued in Lucas Oil Stadium, which was sold out only because of the generosity of a corporate sponsor.
Even without Charles, the Chiefs scored the first five times they had the ball in the first half, uncorking two big pass plays. One was a 63-yard catch and run by Bowe that set up one touchdown; and a 79-yard touchdown bomb -- the longest play from scrimmage this season -- from Smith to Avery.
The Chiefs' defense, which has struggled in recent weeks, came alive with the return of outside linebacker Houston, who missed the last five weeks with a dislocated elbow. Houston had a first-half sack and a fumble recovery that set up a touchdown
Brandon Flowers and Husain Abdullah intercepted Andrew Luck passes that set up touchdowns.
Reid made what might have been too conservative a decision when he had Succop kick a 19-yard field goal on fourth-and-1 for a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
But Reid shed any conservatism when he had Smith arch a 79-yard bomb to Avery, who burned Colts cornerback Josh Gordy so badly, Gordy left the game with a groin injury.
Smith completed 14 of 23 passes for 217 yards in the first half, including a 5-yard touchdown flip to fullback Anthony Sherman.
Rookie Knile Davis, who replaced Charles as the feature back, added a four-yard touchdown run for the 31-10 lead at halftime.
After Abdullah's interception on the first play of the second half, Davis made it 38-31 with a 10-yard run before the Colts mounted their comeback.
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