There was a lot of pressure on the Colts coming into the year. I mean a lot. For starters, they won just two games last season and were winless through their first twelve. On top of that, they parted ways with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time to move on to their quarterback of the future.
As a rookie quarterback in the NFL, No. 1 draft pick and successor to Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck has been forced into learning a little bit about living up to the hype. After leading Stanford to a 30-8 record in three seasons and racking up two second place Heisman Trophy finishes, Luck is rolling with the big boys now – even though he already was one in college.
Luck passed up the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 to return to Stanford for his senior season and develop even more skills as well as get his degree. When his college career was finally over, he had thrown for 9,430 yards and 82 touchdowns in just three seasons.
Then, on Thursday, April 26, 2012, Luck began the next phase of his football career. He was officially drafted first overall by the Indianapolis Colts to be their immediate starting quarterback and replace one of the icons of professional football, Peyton Manning.
As a rookie, he has completely bought in to the Colts’ way. His leadership and work ethic are both already much further along than they should be at the young age of 23, which he turned just three days after the start of the season. If that wasn’t enough, he even recently shaved his head in support of coach, Chuck Pagano, who has been battling cancer for much of the season.
His first test as a pro came against the Chicago Bears and their crazy good as well as experienced defense. Luck looked all right, but his performance against what would turn into the top defense in the league in 2012 reflected that of a rookie. He threw three interceptions and just one late touchdown when the game was already out of reach in his team’s 41-21 loss on opening day.
The team went 2-3 through the first six weeks of the season with losses to the Jaguars and a 35-9 demolishing to the struggling Jets. They did, however, beat a couple of playoff contenders in the Vikings and the Packers. Luck did throw for 1,208 yards in the first five games (241.6 ypg). It was just a matter of really finding some consistency.
With the Jets game behind them, the Colts would be staring at some favorable match-ups in the coming weeks. A Week 7 game against the Browns with fellow rookie quarterback, Brandon Weeden, and Week 8 at Tennessee provided the Colts with a chance to turn things around. And Luck did just that.
With his team trailing late in both games, Luck engineered back-to-back game saving drives that ended up resulting in wins. His game-winning touchdown pass in Week 8 beat the Titans, got Indy to .500 in the division and pushed them over .500 overall for the first time since Manning had left.
Week 9 was more of the same as the Colts grinded out a 23-20 win over the hot Dolphins. Luck threw for a rookie record 433 yards in the win and mixed in two touchdowns with no interceptions. Through eight games, Luck has thrown 10 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions. Through eight games, Luck has thrown for 2,404 yards which is exactly what Manning had through his first eight games and tied for the most ever. Most importantly, through eight games, Luck has the Colts sitting at 5-3 and in 2nd place to the tough Texans in the AFC South at the season’s midway point. If the season ended today, the Colts would be in the playoffs as a wild card team. They have also already more than doubled their win total from last season.
Luck has become the second rookie in NFL history with four 300-yard passing games in his first year. The other was his predecessor, Manning. He also has four 4thquarter or overtime game-winning drives through eight games. The four other rookie QB’s have combined for four among them. Of course, it helps to have a world class talent like Reggie Wayne at his disposal. Wayne has 61 catches for 835 yards and three touchdowns on the year and more importantly, has given Luck that go-to receiver that all young quarterbacks need.
Compared with the second overall pick of this year’s draft, Robert Griffin III, Luck has 2,404 passing yards to Griffin’s 1,993 and has two more touchdown passes. More importantly, Luck has two more wins than the electrifying Griffin, whose Redskins sit at 3-6 through nine games.
The hype, the preperation and the execution all have the Colts in position to return to the playoffs this year. As Luck prepares to face the Jaguars tonight, he can help his team take a giant step towards that goal. A win would improve the team to 6-3 and more importantly, to 2-1 in the division.
The Colts travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jags at 8:20 pm.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.