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New year, but Colts still lean on heroics


– Andrew Luck embraces the challenge of grinding out victories.

He’s done it with his arm, he’s done it with his feet, and now the second-year quarterback would like to figure out how to make things easier on everyone around the Colts’ complex.

Things weren’t supposed to be this difficult in 2013 for Luck & Co., after a big offseason spending spree and a change in offensive philosophy. One week into the season, though, little has changed. Indianapolis is still relying on Luck’s strong right arm and his uncanny knack to rally the team.

“Guys don’t freak out, if you will. (They) keep playing football, realize maybe you give a little extra focus,” Luck said, explaining the secret to the Colts’ late-game success. “Guys just sort of seem to bear down and play ball.”

That’s why eight of Luck’s 12 career wins have come with fourth-quarter comebacks.

Why isn’t the same focus around earlier? That’s the million-dollar question in Indianapolis (1-0).

During Luck’s rookie season, the Colts were outscored 144-96 in the second quarter and were known to have third-quarter lulls, too. It happened again Sunday when the Colts blew a 14-0 lead as Oakland scored 17 straight points.

Yet somehow, Luck always seems to bail out the Colts. Against the Raiders, it came with a 19-yard scramble that put Indianapolis ahead for good 21-17 with 5:20 left in the game, which was no surprise to anyone in Indianapolis’ locker room.

“From a confidence standpoint, you obviously never feel like you’re out of a ballgame,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Would we like to be ahead 21, a couple of scores? Sure, we’d love to be on that end of it, but it’s the National Football League, and it’s really, really hard to win at this level.”

Last season, Luck threw 681 passes, was sacked 44 times and hit more than 100 other times.

Team owner Jim Irsay didn’t want a repeat, so he spent millions of dollars to improve the offensive line. Pagano also hired Luck’s old college offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, to call plays when interim coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took Arizona’s head coaching job.

The concept was simple: By protecting Luck and running the ball more effectively, the Colts wouldn’t need the late-game heroics as much.

It didn’t quite work out Sunday.

Indianapolis averaged 4.9 yards per carry, significant improvement for a team that has produced less than 4 yards five times since the 2006 championship season. Luck, meanwhile, was sacked four times, escaped at least one other sack and took several other big shots – including one on a 20-yard TD pass to Dwayne Allen – and, of course, Luck had to pull it out with the long scramble.

Irsay expects the script to change this week against Miami (1-0).

“We gotta protect #12 better..and that includes more than just’s backs,TE’s,coaches on blitz pick ups..I DEMAND better,” Irsay wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

Notes: Linebacker Pat Angerer (concussion) returned to practice. Tight end Dwayne Allen (hip), linebacker Kavell Conner (ankle) and receiver David Reed (quad) all sat out. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis’ leading tackler in 2012, did limited work because of a quad injury.