Reflection: Andrew Luck is better than advertised and, considering he was advertised as the second coming of you-know-who, that’s saying a mouthful.
Projection: Given the way this season has been – which is to say, wonderful, ridiculous, compelling, inspiring, frightening and utterly unpredictable – I have become thoroughly convinced of the destiny of a Colts-Broncos matchup in the first round of the playoffs, with Chuck Pagano returning to the sidelines.
As it stands now, that’s how the playoff pairings stand. And given Pagano’s remarkable progress in his fight with leukemia, there’s reason to believe he, too, will be ahead of schedule.
Do not bother to harsh my buzz with talk of all the things that can change between now and then. Believe me, I’m fully aware of the facts. But logic has had nothing to do with this season. It has been much more of a dream.
So wouldn’t that just be perfect?
“That’s way to far in advance,” said Bruce Arians. “Don’t even think about that kind of stuff. There’s so many things that could happen. We could lose five more guys and not even come close. We could lose every game just as easily as we could win. We just have to take it one day at a time. Once you start dreaming about that kind of stuff and thinking about that you’ll get your butt beat.”
The thing was, before he launched into his politically-correct answer, a telling smile crossed his face.
Yes, it would be perfect.
Arians is the one guy who hasn’t danced around the comparisons between Luck and Manning, or Luck and Ben Roethlisberger. Arians, of course, was the Colts’ quarterbacks coach for Manning’s first three seasons, and the Steelers’ offensive coordinator for five.
The first half of Luck’s rookie season has been better on every level than that of Manning, with superior numbers in completion percentage (.565 to .551), yards (2,404 to 1,873), passer rating (79.0 to 65.9) and, of course, team record (5-3 to 1-7).
Roethlisberger’s rookie season happened under very different circumstances, as he was a complementary piece on a veteran team that went 15-1, not the central figure in a rebuilding process.
“Of the guys that I’ve had (Luck)’s the farthest along at this time,” Arians said. “He’s doing more and we’re asking him to do more. The other guys, not that they couldn’t have, played extremely well. Their numbers are very comparable. The wins are coming for us a little bit sooner than they did for Peyton. Ben went 15-1 so those are a little tough to beat.
“He’s playing extremely well. Is he playing perfect? No. We don’t have anybody playing perfect but it doesn’t take perfect to win. Just play hard and good things will happen.”
With 433 yards against the Dolphins, Luck already has the NFL single-game yardage record for rookies. He’s on pace to break the league rookie records for attempts (590 by Sam Bradford in 2010), completions (354 by Bradford) and yards (4,051 by Cam Newton in 2011).
He has four games of at least 300 yards, tying Manning’s NFL rookie record, so that one, too, shall certainly fall.
Mix in a team rising well above expectations into the playoff hunt, and you have about as good a start as could be imagined – if not better.
So, what kind of grade would Luck give himself at mid-term?
“I think they say C is average,” he said, “so I’d give myself a C.”
If he ever goes into teaching, stay away from his classes. This guy is tough, even by Stanford standards.
“Well, I think a perfect grade would be if you won every game, didn’t have any incompletions, no interceptions,” he said, “so we’ll keep working until we get to there.”
Arians, by comparison, said he would give Luck an A and was amused when told of the rookie’s tougher grade.
“That doesn’t surprise me one bit,” Arians said. “He’s comparing him to himself. I’m comparing him to all the rest of the guys I’ve ever had.”
Keep in mind, history suggests this will be the worst season of Luck’s career, and it is tracking to be the best of any rookie in NFL history.
And it very well could lead not only to a playoff berth, but the most compelling matchup any of us could imagine.