The Indianapolis Colts' second preseason game showed what's great and disturbing about the NFL.
Great was the way Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck responded to an awful interception in a 26-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Luck threw a reckless, telegraphed pass that was returned for a touchdown. His non-verbal response: Good lesson to learn. Here, let's score three times before halftime.
The disturbing side came when Colts wide receiver Austin Collie left the game with symptoms of a concussion. This is a worrisome trend for Collie, who had frightening in-game concussions two seasons ago. If it's another concussion, he'll need to consider whether his career could be over. That's heavy stuff.
This is the tough part of watching the NFL, whether sitting at home, as I was Sunday, or at the stadium. We know that for every great play by a talent like Luck, there lurks the threat of football violence that can put a player's livelihood, and more, in jeopardy.
Those of us who enjoy the NFL try not to think about the potential frightening moments (vulnerable receivers over the middle taking shots) and instead concentrate on the thrills, such as Luck hitting Reggie Wayne for a big gain on a redemptive drive.
If not for Collie's injury, this column would be nothing but another round of praise for Luck..
Luck had his way with the St. Louis Rams last week, and most of us praised his performance with the caveat that it was the St. Louis Rams. This week would be the real test, the vaunted Steelers. And so it was that the Steelers appeared to shake Luck, at least mentally, early in the game. He looked rushed. He zeroed in on receivers. He threw a sideline pass intended for Wayne that Ike Taylor easily jumped and took 49 yards for a touchdown.
Luck left the field annoyed but undaunted. He returned and directed an 80-yard scoring drive, showing fearlessness on one play where he rolled right and threw back across the field to Wayne. Luck had a second pick later on a perfect pass that bounced off T.Y. Hilton and likely would have been a touchdown if Hilton had caught it. Luck responded then by hitting Hilton on the next offensive series, and directing another score.
“It was definitely a slow start,” Luck said in an NBC interview at halftime. “As an offense, we settled down. It's never good to throw picks, especially a pick-six. But, overall, we got better today.”
Luck finished 16 of 25 passing for 175 yards. He scored on a touchdown run that probably shouldn't have counted, since he slid prior to the goal line. But the replacement referees had blown the previous review, overturning a Vick Ballard touchdown without indisputable evidence and then erroneously spotting the ball at the 1-yard line. (The NFL and the real refs need to resolve things, ASAP.)
The Steelers played defense the way the Colts and Luck needed them to play, showing different looks and attack points and generally allowing Luck to learn on the fly in preseason. This is not a revelation, but Luck is a strong student.
Wayne, who didn't have a catch against the Rams, was Luck's favorite target, with six catches for 74 yards. This looks like the beginning of a beautiful football friendship.
Adam Vinatieri hit a 53-yard field goal to give the Colts a 17-14 halftime lead as Luck and most of the starters left the game for the night.
Alas, what would have been another fully rewarding game for the Colts was marred by Collie's situation.
After watching Collie's past concussion-causing hits, where he was knocked unconscious, I'm always a bit anxious when he runs a route into traffic.
Luck hit Collie with the pass across the middle. He appeared the catch the ball, but lost possession as he was hit and hit the ground. He took a glancing blow to the helmet. He left the game and did not return. The team reported he was being examined for symptoms of a concussion.
There was debate whether Collie should return after a series of concussions in 2010. Debate has been constant, too, over the problem of concussions in the NFL and in all levels of football. Doctors cleared Collie return to play in past instances, and he did so last season.
Doctors might say he can return to play again this year. It's too early to know the diagnosis from Sunday's incident.
But there's no doubt Collie will need to approach his next step with some introspection. Football is his livelihood. He has a passion for playing the game. But when is the risk too much?
This is a violent, dangerous game, even though we disregard that when we're marveling at the performance of players such as Luck. The NFL is great, and sometimes disturbing, but most of us find it impossible to look away.