By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
The Indianapolis Colts have played seven games this season decided by seven points or less.
They’ve won six of those contests, including Sunday’s key 20-13 victory against the Buffalo Bills, and interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was asked Monday if that’s unusual for such a young and inexperienced team.
“I think you’re right, with a normal quarterback,” Arians said. “I don’t think we have a normal one.”
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has again fallen behind Washington counterpart Robert Griffin III on the national stage, after the latter threw eight touchdown passes in his last two starts.
But Luck’s stature remains as high as ever inside his own locker room.
His numbers Sunday — 20-of-37 for 240 yards with one touchdown and one interception — weren’t eye-popping. But they don’t include many of the hidden things the quarterback does that belie his age.
He again was steady on third down, completing 6-of-9 attempts for 82 yards and his only touchdown. The score capped an 87-yard drive that ate more than eight minutes off the clock in the third quarter. Luck converted all four third-down attempts during the march, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton on third-and-goal.
“We’ve asked him to do more than anybody I’ve been around,” said Arians, who also coached Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger as rookies. “He’s been able to respond with it and not make the same mistakes twice. There were times in the ballgame there he saw some things the first time down in the red zone, we came right back with a very similar play and he hit T.Y. for the touchdown. Once he saw the pictures, and what they were doing on the other side earlier in the game on the third-and-3, he was able to adapt and make the play the next time down there.”
Arians was just as impressed by what Luck didn’t do on Sunday.
The quarterback has run into trouble previously when he’s tried to keep a play alive too long. He threw an interception against Jacksonville in Week 3 when he probably should have run out of the pocket, and he nearly was intercepted late in the Miami game three weeks ago when he forced a pass attempt while blanketed in defenders deep in his own territory.
Luck was sacked four times by the Bills, and Arians couldn’t have been happier about his quarterback’s decision making.
“He was trying to get out of there, but it wasn’t time to let one fly down the middle of the field, and that’s good growth,” Arians said. “And punt the football, especially that one when we were down around the 20-yard line coming out. Don’t risk losing the football game right there where you’re trying to be heroic.”
The play Arians referred to came on third-and-2 from the Colts’ 32 with about 10 minutes left in the game. Rather than force a throw, Luck moved up in the pocket to scramble but was cut down by Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams.
Pat McAfee flipped field position on the punt, and the Bills started their ensuing drive at their own 25-yard line. When Buffalo finally punted the ball back to Indianapolis with 3:22 remaining, the offense was able to run out the clock and seal the victory.
Luck’s poise and decision making will be tested again this week at Detroit. The Lions (4-7) feature a powerful front four — led by high draft picks Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley — and the game again could come down to the final possession.
But Luck just keeps looking forward. The Colts’ seventh win Sunday tied him with St. Louis’ Sam Bradford for the most wins by a rookie quarterback taken No. 1 overall since 1970.
Luck still has his eyes set on a playoff berth. Indianapolis (7-4) has a one-game lead over Pittsburgh (6-5) and Cincinnati (6-5) in what figures to be a three-team race for the AFC’s two wild card spots with five games remaining in the regular season.
“We understand the position we’re in, but again nothing has been accomplished yet,” he said Sunday. “But on to the next one, glad to get a ‘W’ out here in front of the home fans at Lucas Oil Stadium.”