FOXBOROUGH – Andrew Luck still remembers sitting in front of his TV as a kid to watch Tom Brady and Peyton Manning square off in one of their many epic battles. As a young quarterback and film junky, it was a master’s course for Luke. He’d study their footwork, watch their reads and the way they commanded the huddle. As he grew older, Luck could envision a reality where he’d be on the field with those guys, but back then it was nothing more than a wild dream. “[Brady and Manning are] sort of the benchmarks of quarterback play,” Luck said when asked of his favorite memory of the rivalry. “There were some great playoff games at both stadiums. I think Gillette had grass a while back so it got fairly muddy sometimes late in the year watching them.
Those are always fun for a lot of people.” On Sunday, Luck will take on Manning’s former role in the rivalry between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. And when he does, somewhere out there some young quarterback will plop down in front of his TV to study the standard that Brady has set at the quarterback position, and perhaps get his first glimpse of what Luck is hoping will eventually become the next great benchmark. The seeds have already been planted. While Luck has struggled at various points during the first half of his rookie season, he’s posted a respectable line by completing 57.5 percent of his passes for 2,631 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s also run for five additional scores.
For the sake of comparison, Manning completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 2,013 yards with 12 touchdowns and 18 interceptions through his first nine games. Brady, meanwhile, completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,823 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first nine starts. Luck stacks up favorably to his predecessor, and has recently shown the same level of efficiency Brady displayed in his first year a starter by completing 66 percent of his passes over last three weeks in wins over Miami, Tennessee and Jacksonville.
If he’s not to that level, he’s at least nearing it the eyes of many observers. Well, there’s still one set of eyes that need convincing. “I definitely don’t deserve to be in that sentence or breath, as you said,” Luck said. “If someday I can play at a level that Peyton and Tom play at, then that’d be a quarterback’s dream come true.” Even if Luck isn’t willing to put himself at that level, plenty of others who have studied his film are willing to do it for him. “He came from a successful program [at Stanford],” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “So I think that helped him transition into the NFL, and obviously he’s got a lot of good skills and he’s smart. He can go out there and make all the throws and he’s able to make a lot of good checks, so I think he’s one step ahead of all the other rookies.”
Ninkovich may be overlooking Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III (65.6 completion percentage, 1,993 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions), but the point remains: Luck is good – really good — and is a big reason why the Colts are 6-3 in a season where many expected them to finish near the bottom of the standings. He also may be just good enough to come into Gillette Stadium and give the Patriots fits Sunday. New England ranks 29th in pass defense and has consistently been susceptible to big plays. The Colts, meanwhile, lead the NFL with 41 passing plays of 20 or more yards.
On paper, that would seem to make the Patriots vulnerable, but Luck was unwilling to bite when presented with those stats. “They’re banged up here and there, but they do a great job I think of getting the job done,” Luck said. “It will be a very tough test for us.” A veteran answer from a rookie quarterback. Luck may be beyond his years in more ways than one.