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Andrew Luck continuing Colts' good fortune; Week 10 X-factors

Maybe Jim Irsay should act like he's been here before, because in truth, he has.

On the other hand, perhaps this emotional day for his supposed-to-be-rebuilding club, and the breakout performance of its precocious franchise quarterback, represented the perfect chance for the Indianapolis Colts owner to reflect on and recognize his good fortune.

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"It's incredible. To have Peyton (Manning) and his greatness and his type of leadership, and then to have Andrew (Luck) come in ..." Irsay said, pausing as he made his way through the Lucas Oil Stadium tunnel after the Colts' Week 9 win over the Miami Dolphins. "To go from Peyton to Andrew, I'm blessed as an owner. The circumstances were things that you can't control. And it's crazy. Peyton could've come out as a junior (in 1997) and ended up with the Jets. But he stayed his senior year. Andrew could've come out (in 2011) and ended up in Carolina."

Irsay wasn't done, continuing to ramp up his appreciation.

"The way everything has come together, and to see Andrew a Colt, making that transition -- because everyone knows it's a quarterback league, and there's only three or four of those types of guys that exist out of six billion people -- what Andrew did today, what he's done so far this season, it's mind-boggling."

Forget the numbers -- Luck has thrown for 2,404 yards, but has completed just 56.5 percent of his passes while compiling a 79.0 passer rating -- because they will deceive.

Luck's performance last Sunday, his performance all season, explains why fans of every slumping NFL team lusted over the Stanford signal-caller last fall. It's why scouts have fawned over him since 2009. And it's why the Colts were so incredibly fortunate to bottom out in 2011, just as they were lucky when their last swoon happened to occur in 1997.

Luck is the best quarterback prospect to come into the NFL since John Elway. On Luck reaching stardom eventually, one exec said last December, "I'd bet my life on it ... You give him the keys to the franchise Day 1, and he'll be fine." Even better, while that's been proven accurate, Luck has seemingly been unaffected by it all.

"We had expectations as a team," Luck told me after I asked if he expected it to come this quick. "It's great to be 5-3. We definitely wanted to have a winning record at this point. But we realize, with hard work, a lot of things have to fall into place for that happen. So I wouldn't say it completely takes me by surprise. Glad to get some wins, though."

Matter-of-fact as he sounded, Luck has made it easy to forget the overhaul that the team in general -- and his offense in particular -- have undergone in the last 10 months. On Sunday, the quarterback was one of eight offensive starters who weren't with the Colts in 2011. Additionally, he lost two starting linemen in-game. And yes, he still threw for an NFL rookie-record 433 yards.

But if you go deeper, you see how truly remarkable his day was. He completed passes to seven different receivers, four of whom finished with more than 70 yards and two of whom topped 100.

And while the Colts' success against the NFL's best third-down defense (Indianapolis converted 13 of 19 third-down opportunities against Miami) has been well documented, even more impressive was Luck's ability to guide Indy through adversity in bad down-and-distance situations. On 16 occasions, the Colts had to gain more than 10 yards. They called 15 passes on those plays. Luck completed nine of those attempts for 136 yards (and LaVon Brazill dropped a potential 36-yard touchdown on one incompletion), including conversions on third-and-12, -14, -20, -16 and -11.


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"Special," is how veteran Colts receiver Reggie Wayne summed up Luck. "A special, special guy. A great guy, and it's beyond just football. But you put the football into it, and it makes even better. Great tools, eager to be great, wants to be great, and did a great job (Sunday). It's not surprising, because I see the guy do all kinds of stuff every day. I'm happy for him. I'm happy to be able to deliver for him. Receivers, as a group, we just wanna be there when he throws it to us, just help him out, and he'll have these kinds of days."

As high as the bar had been set for Luck, Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said: "He's far exceeded expectations, and we thought a lot of him when we drafted him. He's way better than we thought he was." How? Christensen said that, above all else, Luck stays on task when things around him start melting down -- something that shows up in those long-yardage spots -- and bounces back from bad plays.

Wayne said that, as much hype as there was, he's been surprised by the level of control Luck has over the offense at this early stage of his career. That said, there's still room for Luck to get better.

"I keep telling him, 'This is just your first round going through the league; you're seeing everyone for the first time,' " Christensen explained. "Where he'll improve is in recognizing coverage, what teams are doing to him, and puncturing the defense. Right now, he's executing, going through his reads and making the throw. It's the ability to hurt people that you'll see next, where he says, 'I recognize this, and I'm gonna do this.' The second area where he'll improve is taking less hits. It's hard for him to give up on a play."

At this point, that dynamic might highlight just how special Luck has a chance to be.

Luck's ability to be a traditional drop-back passer, à la Manning or Tom Brady, has been established. And before last Sunday's game, one Dolphins official acknowledged that. But he went on to say that Miami's defensive coaches really had their radar up for when Luck "goes Roethlisberger on you." That underscores what sets Luck apart from so many other prospects at the position: He's not one type of passer (drop-back) or the other (athletic); he's both, able to extend plays that have broken down around him.

Plus, he's been schooled for all of this. When I asked him about that readiness last Sunday, he smiled and said, "I just do a good job of faking it." But it's clear that there's more going on.

"I wouldn't say I'm ready for everything," Luck told me. "I still get flustered, I don't handle everything as well as I'd like. But I have a dad who played the position, and, growing up, he worked for the league for a lot of my formative years. And being around athletes has always been easier for me. You have a dad who's been there, lean on him for advice. He was always a good role model for me and my sisters and brother in terms of handling all the different things you get thrown at you."

On Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Luck will put all that preparation to work again. And perhaps give his owner more reason to feel like the luckiest man in the league.

Players on the spot

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon: Blackmon was supposed to bring juice to a passing offense that's dead last in the NFL. Instead, as one pro scout said, his failings have "really hurt (Jaguars quarterback Blaine) Gabbert. I'm not sure his speed, or lack thereof, translates to the pro game -- he can't beat press man coverage. He's just not explosive or quick enough." The fallout: Gabbert and Blackmon could well cost general manager Gene Smith his job.

Dallas Cowboys RB Felix Jones: There's no question that DeMarco Murray's absence has been felt at Valley Ranch. Based on Jones' play, it's easy to forget he was once a first-round pick. Against the Philadelphia Eagles this week, Dallas needs Jones to live up to that former lofty status, even if he already has one foot out the door. The New Orleans Saints were able to physically impose their will on the Eagles' poor-tackling defense, and the Cowboys have to be able to do the same.

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New England Patriots DB Devin McCourty: Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been able to throw the ball on New England in the past, and that's partially why McCourty is in this group. But it's more about McCourty's future. The former first-round pick's move to safety is expected -- it's maybe more a matter of when than if. Recently acquired cornerback Aqib Talib comes off suspension Monday. How McCourty is used -- and plays -- in New England's final pre-Talib game could chart McCourty's course.

Baltimore Ravens CB Jimmy Smith: Cornerback was a strength in Baltimore going into the year. That changed when Lardarius Webb went down. Ravens officials told me the team's issues at the position have more to do with Cary Williams and Corey Graham, but consistency has clearly been a problem for the talented Smith. The Ravens' wounded D needs a star at that position. If Smith gets there, it'll be easier to fix what ails that unit.

Coaches in the spotlight

Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs: If you recognize the Chiefs' game against the Pittsburgh Steelers this Monday for what it is, you won't have trouble seeing the potential for a train wreck. Steelers offensive coordinator (and former Chiefs coach) Todd Haley has intimate knowledge of Kansas City's personnel, and also has a score to settle. That puts Gibbs, in his first game since current Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel relinquished control of the D, in a tough enough spot. That this might be the last shot at pumping life into a dead team makes it tougher.

Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg: The circumstances aren't fair -- only Evan Mathis is left from the starting five linemen the team rolled out on opening day -- but neither is life in the NFL. And while Michael Vick, who held the ball and didn't feel the rush, was partially responsible for the beating he took against the Saints in Week 9, Mornhinweg and Co. must get creative to find a way to keep Vick clean.

Something to spot on Thursday night

Shad Khan's mindset: The Jaguars owner aspires to run a forward-thinking, cutting-edge organization, and Jacksonville hasn't been that through nine weeks. Khan called last Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions "embarrassing." So imagine how he'll feel if his team lays an egg on national TV on Thursday. No doubt about it, GM Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey are on notice, and the team needs to show major progress if their jobs are to be saved.

Spot check

The Atlanta Falcons' secondary: Atlanta ranks 14th in pass defense and showed vulnerabilities as recently as last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, but the team has masked the problem with 17 takeaways. Drew Brees is 10-2 against Atlanta as a Saint, compiling 3,639 yards, 26 touchdowns and a 67.5 completion percentage in those games. If the Falcons are going to break their New Orleans hex, the defensive backs have to play a big role.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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