Ashley Fox | ESPN.com
INDIANAPOLIS — When it was over and victory was his and his predecessor was vanquished and all the noise — the “B.S.,” as he had called it — had subsided, Andrew Luck embraced his father, Oliver, and exhaled. In a desolate hallway deep inside Lucas Oil Stadium, Oliver draped his right arm over Andrew’s shoulders and, with Andrew pulling a small black suitcase, the two walked toward the brisk Indianapolis night.
This was special. This was meaningful. This they would remember.
This was the night Luck proved once and for all that this is no longer Peyton Manning‘s team or town. Manning is just a visitor now. He is part of the Indianapolis Colts‘ storied past but not its present and certainly not its future. That belongs to Luck, and if we learned anything from the Colts’ 39-33 win over Manning’s previously undefeated Denver Broncos, it is that the future for Indianapolis is now.
Look what the Colts have done so far this season. Win at San Francisco? Check. Deliver Seattle its only loss of the season? Check. Beat the previously unbeatable Broncos and their seemingly unstoppable quarterback? Check.
That’s three wins over three of the best teams in the National Football League this season, and it hasn’t been by accident. Indianapolis drubbed the 49ers 27-7, outslugged Seattle at home 34-28 and Sunday night held — yes, held — the Broncos to 33 points, their lowest output of the season and well below the 44.2 points-per-game average they brought into the game.
The Colts are for real because they have a defense that can defend the pass and run, players who have bought into the importance of special teams and a balanced offense led by the best quarterback of the richly talented 2012 draft class. Defensive end Robert Mathis and wide receiver Reggie Wayne are the veteran leaders in the locker room, but everyone follows the quarterback because he is grounded, solid, unflappable and poised. Luck is never too high, never too low.
Never was that more evident than the past week.
The “B.S.” of what Luck spoke after the game was the torrent of attention the game received because it was Manning’s first time back at Lucas Oil Stadium since Colts owner Jim Irsay fired him in March 2012. Indianapolis had the first overall pick in the draft. Manning was coming off a missed season following four neck surgeries. Luck was a can’t-miss prospect.
And so Manning left and Luck arrived and time moved on. That Irsay was quoted last week as saying the Colts could have won more than one Super Bowl and capitalized better on a Star Wars-type offense with Manning was unfortunate for Irsay. But the ensuing flack diminished the spotlight on Luck, who put his head down, said the right things and focused all of his attention on preparing for the Denver defense rather than worrying about how he would play in comparison to Manning.
On Wednesday, coach Chuck Pagano gave his team a list of goals for the Denver game. There were some Pagano staples, like run the ball and stop the run. But there were others: Win time of possession, convert offensively on third down, get off the field defensively on third down and win the turnover battle.
Indianapolis did all of the above. While the Colts’ defense — and Mathis in particular — was harassing Manning, Luck operated in a fairly clean pocket. Denver sacked Luck twice, but Luck also was able to buy time with his feet. He demonstrated that he is lethal throwing on the run. He ran for one touchdown and passed for three others. Luck would have had a fifth had Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not broken up a bomb that had traveled more than 60 yards in the air and otherwise would have hit wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in stride at the goal line.
Luck finished 21-of-38 for 228 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Asked how much pressure Luck put on himself heading into the game, Pagano said, “Zero. Zero. About the same amount he put on here when he signed his first contract, which was none.”
That is the Luck his Indianapolis teammates have grown to expect and even admire. He didn’t let the moment overcome him, and he didn’t make it about himself. Luck is very much a team guy. Win as a team, lose as a team. One man does not a team make.
“What’s great about him is there’s no situation that’s too big for Andrew,” offensive guard Mike McGlynn said. “He’s got so much poise, the most poise I’ve ever played with a quarterback. He’s a special player, man. He’s going to take us as far as we can go.”
Which could be far, if the Colts’ success thus far is any indication.
Like Pagano, Luck won’t deviate from the process. It is one practice, one meeting, one game and one week at a time.
After beating Denver, this week will be a little sweeter. The Colts are 5-2 and have a much-needed bye week before returning to face Houston in an important division game.
This week is about resting and healing and eating. For the first time since training camp, the offensive linemen will gather for dinner on Monday — this time at a downtown Indianapolis steakhouse — with the Colts quarterbacks and whoever else chooses to attend.
“We’ll see who picks up the check,” McGlynn quipped. “The quarterbacks are real good about picking it up. I just know I’m not paying for it.”
One night, Luck leaves the stadium victorious with his dad, a star in the making and the quarterback of a team on a steep rise. The next, Luck gets stuck with a monstrous dinner bill. Such is the life of Indianapolis’ starting quarterback. From Luck you will hear no complaints.
- ESPN.com NFL columnist
- Joined ESPN in 2011
- Has also worked at Sports Illustrated, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Louisville Courier-Journal