The Indianapolis Colts crowned their remarkable turnaround by clinching an AFC wild-card playoff berth with a 20-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
The Colts, who tied for the NFL's worst record last season at 2-14, improved to 10-5 with their win over the 2-13 Chiefs.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who the Colts claimed with the top pick in the NFL Draft thanks to their woeful record, hit a leaping Reggie Wayne in the back of the end zone for the winning seven-yard touchdown pass with 4:08 left in the game.
That connection capped a 73-yard drive that marked their NFL record-tying seventh fourth-quarter comeback victory.
Luck set the league record for passing yards in a season for a rookie, finishing the game with 4,183 yards to eclipse the mark of 4,051 yards last season by Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers with one regular season game still to play.
"I'm very proud to be a part of this team, to be associated with a playoff team. What a great win for us," Luck told reporters. "We've been in that situation before when we've been down or tied.
"It was a great all-around effort on that last drive."
The Colts bucked even longer odds this year, learning they would have to carry on without head coach Chuck Pagano, who left after three games to go through treatment for leukemia.
Pagano, who was replaced by interim coach Bruce Arians (9-3 with the team), has been cleared by doctors to return to the team and is expected to be back on the sidelines next week.
"I can't say enough about the guys in the locker room, mission accomplished." said Arians.
"We set out to extend this season for Chuck. Now he can come back Monday and not be in the stressful time that we were in. He can get back into the flow of things at his pace."
Luck, who completed 17-of-35 passes for 205 yards including five to Wayne for 81 yards, was one of a group of Colts players who shaved their heads in solidarity with Pagano, whose hair fell out during his cancer treatments.
"It means the world," Luck said about Pagano's return. "I'm glad we could get this win for him so he can come back knowing we'll be in the postseason."
The Colts close the regular season against the visiting AFC South champion Houston Texans (12-3).
(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Gene Cherry)