DETROIT — Andrew Luck scrambled a bit to his right, saw nobody open in the end zone and decided to take his chances.
He flipped the ball to Donnie Avery and hoped his 5-foot-11 receiver could win a race to the end zone.
"I had no choice but to score," Avery said. "It was the slowest 11 yards that I ever felt like I ran."
It may have felt like it took forever, but Avery crossed the goal line standing up on the final play, giving Indianapolis a 35-33 win over Detroit on Sunday. The Colts scored two touchdowns in the final 2:39 to hand the Lions another excruciating loss.
"Some teams find ways to win," Indianapolis interim coach Bruce Arian said. "Others don't."
With the final seconds ticking away and the ball at the Detroit 14, Luck took the snap, moved up in the pocket and tossed a short pass to Avery, who made the catch around the 10. With Detroit's secondary focused on covering receivers in the end zone, Avery was scamper in.
"You always hesitate throwing the ball not in the end zone, for fear of the clock running out with a guy inbounds," Luck said. "Took the calculated risk that Donnie could get there in the end zone, and he did."
Luck has won more games (eight) than any rookie quarterback drafted No. 1 overall in the Super Bowl era.
The Colts (8-4) stayed in control of the AFC wild-card race by winning for the sixth time in seven games. Luck helped them move a step closer toward a 10th playoff berth in 11 seasons, this time without Peyton Manning.
Luck also threw a last-minute touchdown pass in October to beat Green Bay. His transition from Stanford to the NFL has looked pretty smooth so far.
Detroit, on the other hand, has regressed this season after an exciting playoff appearance a year ago. The Lions (4-8) became the first team since at least 1983 to lose three straight games – all at home – after leading each with 2:00 remaining in regulation, according to STATS, LLC.
The Lions are the third team since at least 1940 to lose three in a row – all at home – after leading each in the fourth quarter.
Detroit led 33-21 when Luck threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to LaVon Brazill with 2:39 left. On the ensuing possession, the Lions were facing third-and-5 near midfield and called a run, hoping to drain the clock if they didn't gain enough yards.
Mikel Leshoure was stopped, and punter Nick Harris failed to pin the Colts back. His 25-yard effort gave Indianapolis a manageable situation – the ball at its own 25 with 1:07 remaining.
"Terrible," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We had a chance to give them a long field, and we hit our worst punt of the game."
The Colts made it to the Detroit 14 before three straight incompletions set up fourth down. Luck and Avery made the most of their final chance.
"If the pass rush does their job, he doesn't get free on the scramble and he never finds that receiver," Schwartz said. "All game, we focused on taking away his step-up lanes, and then on the last play, we don't do it."
Luck was 24 of 54 for 391 yards with four TD passes and three interceptions. He has thrown 13 of his 16 interceptions on the road.
Fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton had six receptions for 100 yards and Avery had five catches for 91 yards and two scores.
Calvin Johnson had a career-high 13 receptions for 171 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown that gave Detroit a 30-21 lead late in the third quarter. Johnson also made a one-handed grab that set up Leshoure's TD in the second quarter. Johnson had at least 125 yards receiving for the fifth straight game, matching an NFL record set in 1966 by Pat Studstill with the Lions.
"Calvin Johnson is always a bright spot," Schwartz said. "Maybe I should have had him on defense for the last play."
Matthew Stafford was 27 of 46 for 313 yards with two TDs and an interception for the Lions.
Stafford missed Johnson at times late in the game, including on the Lions' last scoring drive when he threw behind him in the end zone. That led to Jason Hanson's fourth field goal of the game, which gave Detroit a 33-21 lead with 8:41 left.
"You aren't going to score a touchdown every time, but we missed too many plays and ended up settling for three," Stafford said. "Normally, you are happy if you put 33 on the board, but we made too many mistakes when we could have had touchdowns."
NOTES: Lions WR Ryan Broyles (right knee) left the game, leaving the team thin at the position because it left Titus Young inactive because of his behavior and previously lost Nate Burleson to a season-ending knee injury. ... Colts OL Joe Reitz left in the first quarter and didn't return after undergoing a concussion evaluation. ... Indy rookie TE Coby Fleener, who missed the previous four games with a shoulder injury, made a twisting, 26-yard TD catch in the second quarter.