By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
As he came to the sideline last Sunday after throwing his second pick six against the New England Patriots, Andrew Luck took out his frustration on his helmet.
The Indianapolis Colts’ rookie quarterback had delivered the ball late on an out pattern to veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, a rookie himself, stepped in front of the pass and ran it back 87 yards to the opposite end zone.
The return killed an early fourth-quarter drive and left the Colts facing an insurmountable 45-17 road deficit. Luck blamed no one but himself for the error, and his headgear became collateral damage.
“No one is harder on himself than he is,” Indianapolis interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “He about broke his helmet, and I was like, ‘Man, you’ve got a communicator in there. Don’t break that helmet. I don’t know if we’ve got another one here. You’ve got to go back in there.’”
Luck’s helmet survived the attack, and he returned to the field to throw a 43-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton on the next possession. The bounce back series again proved the former Stanford star’s fearlessness.
It’s also among the reasons Arians is willing to put up with his quarterback’s periodic self flagellation.
“I love the competitive spirit he has,” the veteran coach said.
Luck had measured himself against the defending AFC champions, and there was plenty to be excited about. He threw for 334 yards and led the offense to touchdowns on each of its first two drives.
In fact, Luck led Indianapolis to more yards and first downs than the Patriots and drew admiration from New England head coach Bill Belichick for his ability to get rid of the football under pressure and squeeze it into receivers despite tight coverage.
But the Patriots blasted the Colts 59-24, and Luck’s four turnovers — which included three interceptions and a fumble — led to 21 New England points.
“Turnovers kill you in this league, especially against good teams,” Luck said this week at Indianapolis’ practice facility. “You can’t give them gifts. They’ll embarrass you if you do.”
Luck already has set NFL rookie records for single-game passing yards (433) and 300-yard games (5). He’s within hailing distance of Peyton Manning’s rookie franchise record for single-season passing yards, and he’s ahead of Cam Newton’s league-record pace of a year ago.
With one more win, Luck will tie St. Louis’ Sam Bradford for the most wins by a quarterback taken with the No. 1 overall pick in his rookie season. And he has a chance to become the first top overall pick to lead his team to a postseason berth in his debut campaign.
But he must cut down on the interceptions. Luck has thrown just three picks in the Colts’ six wins, but he has nine interceptions in the team’s four losses.
“We realize we can’t turn the ball over and have a chance to win,” Arians said. “We’re going to be as good as he is offensively.”
Arians isn’t panicking over the miscues. He said all 12 of Luck’s interceptions have been the result of bad throws, not bad reads.
That’s an important distinction because it means the problem can be solved through improved footwork and arm angles, a much simpler remedy than teaching a passer how to read and diagnose defenses.
Arians believes Luck’s interception ratio will improve with experience. The quarterback’s on-field support system also will aid the cause.
“You don’t let him sit on the side by himself (after an interception),” Wayne said. “You are going to go up to him, and he’s going to tell you what he tried to do. And you go tell him what you saw, and you put your thoughts together. That’s the way it goes. A lot of times he comes to us (receivers) and he tells us, his bad, won’t happen again. He tells us what he’s trying to do, and we keep moving from there.”
If the Colts are to keep moving into the playoffs, they’ll need more good Luck than bad.
With just six games remaining in the regular season, and 6-4 Indianapolis tied with Pittsburgh and holding a slim one-game lead over Cincinnati for the final two postseason berths, there’s no time for Luck to give into the fatigue commonly known as the “Rookie Wall.”
There’s also little time to linger over his mistakes.
Luck said he feels good physically, and all of his focus is on today’s home game against the desperate Buffalo Bills.
“I think it would be a disservice to my teammates if I started feeling sorry for myself, down and what not,” he said. “It’s easy when you know what’s at stake. Games are big. It’s not too hard to get up for it and get prepared for it.”