Jan 11, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) looks to pass during the fourth quarter of the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Luck: Colts quarterback has greatest-ever potential

It was a little more than two years ago when I finally came around on Andrew Luck.

Prepping myself for the 2012 NFL Draft and the increasing likelihood that my beloved Indianapolis Colts were going to release Peyton Manning and draft Luck with the first overall pick, I took to the internet to do my homework on the kid being heralded as the greatest quarterback prospect since John Elway.

No lie: I spent hours that day watching Youtube clips and highlights of Luck, and the more I watched, the more I wanted to keep watching. Luck had it all — the quickness, the athleticism, the strength, the crisp throws, the pinpoint accuracy, the good deep ball, the leadership, and a resilience unlike I had ever seen from a 22-year old.

I was convinced: the Colts needed to sever ties with Manning and pave the way for Luck.

But how could it have taken me until the February following his junior season to realize Luck’s legitimacy? Surely I had seen some of his Stanford games live or at least his highlights on SportsCenter during the season — even if I wasn’t an avid college football fan.

Well, here’s the cold truth: before that day, I didn’t allow myself to buy the Luck hype.

Understand that, for 13 years, I knew only Peyton Manning. I couldn’t imagine — didn’t dare to imagine — life without the then-four-time MVP who had led the Colts to two Super Bowls and even a Super Bowl win in 2007.

So I was both happy and sad — if that’s possible — when the Colts cut Manning in March, just seven weeks before the draft. Sad because my favorite Colt would no longer wear the horseshoe on Sundays, happy because I knew, deep down, that it was the only move to be made for the rebuilding franchise.

I couldn’t imagine life without the four-time MVP who had led the Colts to two Super Bowls.

Luck officially became an Indianapolis Colt on April 26, 2012 and has since exceeded even my expectations. In two pro seasons, Luck has led the Colts to back-to-back 11-5 seasons and back-to-back playoff appearances.

I’ve been on record: Luck is already an elite quarterback. So I was not shocked at all when 26 NFL insiders recently polled by ESPN’s Mike Sando ranked Luck as one of five “Tier 1” quarterbacks.

Luck inherited the NFL’s worst team — the Colts went 2-14 in 2011 — and has since turned them into a contender. His rookie season, Luck overcame the league’s 26th-ranked defense and 29th-ranked rushing offense and won 11 games, earning the Colts a Wild Card berth. He manufactured an NFL-record seven game-winning drives in 2012, including one against Aaron Rodgers’ Packers that saw the Colts climb back from a 21-3 halftime deficit and another against the Lions, when Luck led two touchdown-scoring drives in the final three minutes and 29 seconds — capped off with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery as time expired —  to erase a 33-21 deficit.

Then, last season, Luck overcame the league’s second most injury-plagued team — the Colts lost 83 games to starters, second only to the Giants — and the league’s 20th-ranked defense by again winning 11 games and this time capturing the AFC South crown.

Luck did it all in 2013. Against the defending NFC champion 49ers in Week 3, Luck had a QBR (scale 1-to-100) of 79.5 and scored the game-clinching touchdown on a play-action bootleg … against the would-be Super Bowl champion and then-undefeated Seahawks in Week 5, Luck had an 80.4 QBR and orchestrated the game-winning drive at the hands of the league’s best defense …against the Broncos and Peyton Manning in Week 7, Luck outplayed his predecessor as he accounted for four total touchdowns and zero turnovers in a 39-33 win … against the Texans in Week 9, Luck wiped away a 24-6 hole with three drives resulting in touchdowns (all three of which were passes to T.Y. Hilton) in the game’s final 19 minutes … against the Bengals in a Week 15 loss, Luck threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns (to no interceptions) and posted a 113.1 passer rating.

But Luck saved his very best for Wild Card weekend, when the Chiefs visited Indianapolis for round one of the playoffs. The Colts fell behind 38-10 early in the second half, only for Luck to complete the second greatest playoff comeback ever. The Colts scored five combined touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters and ultimately won, 45-44.

January 26, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Team Sanders quarterback Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts (12) warms up before the 2014 Pro Bowl against Team Rice at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In what most considered to be the best game of the 2013-14 season, Luck displayed his entire arsenal.

  • The stat-sheet stuffing: Luck had a near-perfect 93.5 QBR and threw for a career-high 443 yards and four touchdowns.
  • The resilience: Luck overcame three costly interceptions and a 28-point deficit to lead his Colts to victory. Not many quarterbacks would have the guts to pull that off, let alone a 24-year old in his first home playoff game.
  • The clutch gene: Under win-or-go-home pressure, Luck was perfect when he had to be. He led five drives resulting in touchdowns in the second half — just like he had to — and threw the game-winning, 64-yard dart to T.Y. Hilton late in the fourth quarter.
  • The sixth-sense: Luck’s fumble scoop-up touchdown was the most Andrew Luck play of the season, maybe of his career. Luck has a knack of seeing plays develop — almost like Derek Jeter — before they actually do. He picked up Brown’s fumble and leapt into the end zone before the other 21 players on the field even seemed to process what was happening.

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was not short on praise for Luck at game’s end.

“There’s been some great ones. But (Luck is) gonna go down as probably one of the best, if not the best, ever to play this game when everything is all said and done. We’re very, very fortunate to have No. 12 on our side,” Pagano told NFL.com.

Grigson, maybe trying to one-up Pagano, compared Luck to the greatest clutch performer ever in sports.

“He’s always been a different animal in the fourth quarter, his whole life. And just even hearing the story from his uncle Will (Wilson). He relishes those moments. It’s like (Michael) Jordan when he’d take that last shot — he wants the ball,” Grigson said, also to NFL.com.

Grigson and Pagano will get no argument from me — Luck IS Jordanesque late in fourth quarters and I do see greatest-ever potential in him.

Sure, it’s a bold statement for a quarterback who hasn’t stepped foot into his third season. But there’s something special about Luck. I won’t be the one to bet against him.

Tags: Andrew Luck Indianapolis Colts NFL Peyton Manning

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