INDIANAPOLIS – Maybe we should wait a couple more weeks before putting a gigantic Andrew Luck photo on the outside of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Or maybe not.
Spoiled rotten by the excellence of the great Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts fans had to suffer for one miserable season in 2011. Now they're spoiled again. Hardly seems fair, does it Browns fans?
Then along came Luck, who demonstrated again in the Colts' 23-20 win over the Miami Dolphins that these fans are watching history repeat itself. We knew Luck could be great. The surprise is how fast it's happening.
Luck took his already precocious rookie season a notch higher Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, completing 30 of 48 passes for 433 yards and touchdowns to Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. His yardage breaks Cam Newton's single-game rookie record by one yard. Luck also tied Manning with his fourth game with 300 or more yards. His 2,404 yards through the first eight games is the most by a rookie.
But enough numbers.
On a day when the Colts were inspired by a visit from ailing coach Chuck Pagano and the Colts improved to 5-3 at the halfway point, Luck played like the Next Big Thing. Colts interim coach Bruce Arians called his play “Pro Bowl caliber.”
“That kid just continues to amaze,” Wayne said. “He has a really bright, bright future. Hopefully, I can help add on to this legacy he's about to build. …He took control of the game as he always does. Like we've been saying all year – no panic, no pressure.”
How do you even go about picking out Luck's best play? There are so many choices. He escapes would-be sacks repeatedly. He rolls out and hits tight end Dwayne Allen on the run. He throws a perfect 48-yard pass, finally finding that timing to Donnie Avery's speed, and Avery pulls it in.
Luck is nearly sacked by Miami end Oliver Vernon, escapes and lofts a pass to Wayne just over the fingertips of safety Jimmy Wilson. A penalty erases a third-down completion and forces a 3rd-and-16, he finds LaVon Brazill for a 19-yard gain. He throws a touchdown pass into double coverage, trusting Hilton to retrieve it even after an earlier Hilton drop.
Luck gets compared often and naturally to Manning, since he's following his footsteps in Indianapolis. But he's part Aaron Rodgers with his feet, part Ben Roethlisberger with his ability to shake defenders with pure strength.
Arians coached Manning and Roethlisberger, and sees some of Big Ben in Big Andrew.
“It's hard to describe how different they are as people, but as quarterbacks, they're a lot alike,” Arians said. “They're very accurate, they're big, they're strong, they're athletic, they know what they're doing and they know where to go with the football.”
Like Roethlisberger, Luck makes plays linger after a sack or a throw-away appears inevitable. He completed 13 of 17 third-down passes for 204 yards.
“When things are covered up, they can extend it,” Arians said. “Their eyes are always downfield. They're not looking to run. They're looking to create a play.”
Luck is 190-of-336 passing for 2,404 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight picks so far. He's been sacked 19 times, and sometimes that comes from holding onto the ball a tad too long. He has four fourth-quarter game-winning drives.
Perhaps no one knows quality quarterbacks better than Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, whose 43-yarder with 5:58 left served as the game winner. Vinatieri won Super Bowls with Tom Brady and Manning. As a kicker he has more time to observe the offense than anyone other than a coach.
Vinatieri sounds more than a little impressed by Luck's play through eight games.
“I was never around Peyton when he was a rookie,” Vinatieri said. “Brady had a handful of years in there to figure out the system before he stepped in. It's fun watching Andrew, a new guy out there, watching him do the things he does. He doesn't look like a rookie quarterback. He looks so composed making big play after big play and he brings us back to win games.
“Time will tell, but he's something special already.”
To his credit, Luck maintains a humble exterior, pointing out his faults, talking about the areas where he needs to improve. He's far from perfect. He took a sack/fumble Sunday and got away with a bad decision to try to throw a short pass to Wayne while about to be sacked. The ball could have been picked.
We expected rookie mistakes. We expected some time for Luck to grasp the NFL game. The progress he has made in eight games is undeniable. Remember when he wasn't quite on the same page with non-Wayne receivers the first couple weeks?
Hilton finished with 102 yards receiving. Avery finished with 108, rookie tight end Dwayne Allen with 75 and Wayne with 78.
Luck's 433 yards passing put him in the Colts' record book, tied for third with a Manning performance against Houston in 2010. The top 10 single-game Colts passing games include eight Manning totals (including the record 472), one by John Unitas and now one by Luck.
“We feel that if we play well, we're going to have an opportunity to win ball games, do some good things,” Luck said. “We do believe in ourselves and we know this city believes in us. I tell you, it's a fun team to be on, a fun place to play and I'm really enjoying it.”
Colts fans seem to like what Luck's doing, too.
They're being spoiled again.