Indianapolis Colts  

 

Andrew Luck leads Indianapolis Colts past mistakes with poise

PITTSBURGH -- The Indianapolis Colts security guard could only be described as overzealous. Standing very close and wearing a pronounced frown, he clearly thought his rookie quarterback should have been heading out of Heinz Field and toward the bus. Andrew Luck, though, smiled easily, then said sure, he'd answer three quick questions.

With the privilege of being the first overall pick comes the obligation of being the face of the franchise. Following his second NFL start, Luck was happily fulfilling those duties on this Sunday night. And why shouldn't he have been? No, he didn't have a perfect stat line, but oh yes, Luck had been a success.

"We could see," said Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, "why he's the No. 1 overall pick."

It was Taylor who saw Luck lock in on veteran receiver Reggie Wayne with less than three minutes to play in the first quarter of the preseason matchup between the Steelers and Colts. It was Taylor who saw that Luck hadn't quite put enough on the pass he sent Wayne's way, and it was Taylor who stepped in front of Wayne, snatching the ball and practically jogging 49 yards to the end zone.

The Colts and Luck hadn't done much of anything up until then. After the Steelers got the extra point and kicked the ball off, the Colts did even less, losing five yards when LaMarr Woodley sacked Luck.

He had just endured his first-ever NFL interception and first-ever NFL sack on back-to-back snaps. So what does Luck do?

He brushes off his jersey and fires a nine-yard pass to Wayne. Then he swings a 13-yard pass left to Dwayne Allen. Then another pass left -- this one 14 yards to Wayne -- followed by a 24-yard bullet up the middle to tight end Coby Fleener.

Four straight completions in a 10-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in the Colts' first touchdown of the game. Then Luck drove the Colts to another touchdown (albeit one that came on a seemingly friendly take by the referees on Luck's one-yard slide sort-of into the end zone) and a field goal with one second on the clock before halftime. After suffering two of his first professional disappointments, Luck led Indianapolis to 17 straight points, quickly and without any histrionics.

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"Andrew is a very even-keeled guy," Colts running back Donald Brown said.

"I'm not a fan of seeing my quarterback get hit at all," Wayne said. "But him being able to bounce back was a bright spot."

Of course, Luck occasionally looked flummoxed by coordinator Dick LeBeau's blitzes and a Steelers defense that Luck himself had called "historic" before the game. The key, though, is that Luck never looked flustered. He went through his checks like a much more seasoned player. He was patient.

Twice, he threaded a pass to Wayne between two defenders, putting the football where only his man could catch it. On his very first pass, Luck tried throwing left to Wayne in the flat, but there was way too much traffic; after that, though, he made mostly strong decisions. (The blame for Luck's second interception lies entirely with receiver T.Y. Hilton, who let a perfectly placed ball bounce up and off his hands.) When Luck left the field, he had accumulated 175 yards on 16-of-25 passing, and the Colts were up 17-14 (the Steelers eventually won, 26-24).

Luck isn't, Brown said, surprising his teammates anymore.

"The leadership he shows us showed itself to everyone else tonight," Brown said.

Wayne called Luck "special." Brown said Luck has so strongly been his own person, he's made comparisons to Peyton Manning obsolete. And that's just on the field.

The affable Luck is obviously smart and unabashedly himself, from the beard to the way he talks with his hands. He freely laughed at himself and said, yes, after the St. Louis Rams laid down for a 38-3 pounding by the Colts in their preseason opener, the Steelers' defense provided his official welcome to the NFL. He didn't resort to clichés when describing the series following the interception, frankly saying that all that was playing in his head was "redemption." He called Wayne's counsel "paramount." In general, he talked like a person who reads a lot more than playbooks.

Before the game, Luck was quietly warming up at one of the goal lines, which was abutting rows and rows of Steelers fans. One loud voice rang out, crying, "Luck, we'll own you!"

The Steelers fans surrounding the lone heckler? They were taking Luck's picture.

Follow Aditi Kinkhabwala on Twitter @AKinkhabwala

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