CHICAGO – Andrew Luck threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and had what seemed like half the Chicago Bears defense in his face whenever the ball was in his hands.
Yet the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft never looked flustered or seemed rattled. Never gave up, either, even in the final seconds of a 41-21 Indianapolis loss Sunday that was more lopsided than the score indicated.
He kept his poise no matter what, said receiver Reggie Wayne, one of the Colts’ few veterans. They’re putting a lot on his shoulders, and he’s taking it all in.
Rarely has so much been expected of a rookie.
Being the top pick would be enough to bring microscopic attention and huge expectations. But Luck also has the unenviable task of replacing a future Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning.
As if that isn’t enough to heap on his pads, Luck is also being asked to produce with a roster filled with rookies and retreads. Almost half of the 53-man roster is new to Indianapolis. Of Luck’s eight receivers Sunday, three were rookies and another, Kris Adams, is in his second year.
We’ve got a lot of young guys, but they’re very dedicated and they know what’s expected of them, kicker Adam Vinatieri said. It won’t take a long learning curve to get where we need to be.
The Colts bristle at the suggestion this is a rebuilding year, saying that’s what they did last season, when they went 2-14 while Manning recovered from a neck injury. Wayne even insists this offense can still be among the league’s elite, that it won’t be long before Luck is showing why he’s been billed as the most NFL-ready quarterback since, well, Manning.
Not everyone is going to come out the first time and be spectacular, especially at quarterback, Wayne said. Hopefully we got it out of our system.
I guarantee, he added, we’ll be better.
Luck took responsibility for the loss, calling his three picks and the lost fumble killers. He finished 23 of 45 for 309 yards, and his quarterback rating was a measly 52.9.
But the rest of the Colts were quick to come to his defense. Coach Chuck Pagano – yet another of the Colts’ rookies – absolved his young quarterback of blame for the fumble, saying Luck was trying to make a play and got hit from behind.
Two of the interceptions were great plays by Bears cornerback Tim Jennings, Pagano said.
While some of Luck’s incompletions were simply bad throws, errors he probably won’t make a month or two from now, there were also plenty of drops. Luck spent so much time on the ground there’s no way the Colts staff is ever going to get his jersey clean. And the running game was practically nonexistent, all of 63 yards on 15 carries.
We’ve got to help him out, make him look good, Wayne said. If we don’t, it’ll continue to look ugly for him.
Luck promised to use the loss as a learning experience. And he has to look no further than Manning’s debut to know that one game is no indication of how a career will turn out.
Manning went 21 of 37 for 302 yards and a touchdown in his first game. He also threw three interceptions.
There will a be a lot of positives, a lot of negatives. We’ll try to learn from it, Luck said. I’m still disappointed fresh off what happened, but we’ll get over it.
That attitude is why Luck’s teammates could still sound optimistic after the game. Luck isn’t used to losing, and it would be easy for a not-quite-23-year-old to get frustrated or pout when finally faced with adversity. (See Ryan Leaf in San Diego. Or even a young Jay Cutler.) But Luck’s demeanor never changed from the opening kickoff to the final whistle.
Luck was sacked for the third time Sunday afternoon just before the two-minute warning. On the next play, he found Donnie Avery for a 26-yard gain, his longest completion of the day.
He comes in there, and he doesn’t have that (petrified) look on his face, offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo said. I compare it to a really good shooter in basketball. It doesn’t matter how many you miss, you don’t think he doubts himself.
The Colts don’t, either.
He’s going to be good. Give him time, Wayne said. Rome wasn’t built in a day.