I still can't believe Andrew Luck threw for only 309 yards in his first NFL game. What a disappointment. He better step it up Sunday.
Welcome to the world of unrealistic expectations, Indianapolis Colts version.
My first paragraph was, of course, sarcasm. Unfortunately, there were those who looked at Luck's debut (one touchdown, three picks, a 20-point loss to the Chicago Bears) and spouted similar statements with full seriousness. I know. I saw it where people gather for intelligent discourse: Twitter. Sorry, more sarcasm.
It certainly didn't help that Peyton Manning played like he always has and Robert Griffin III came close to perfection. Luck finished third in ranking the three always to be intertwined quarterbacks.
On a lighter note, Colts grumblers, would you rather have Jay Cutler? Five out of five linemen say no.
So, as the Colts (0-1) prepare for their home opener against the Minnesota Vikings (1-0), let's set some realistic goals and expectations for Luck. Let's make them aspirations solely zeroed in on Luck, with no regard to what anyone else in the league is doing.
Here's what Luck needs to shoot for Sunday:
* Patience. Young quarterbacks rush things. This will happen sometime with RG3, too, against a better defense than the New Orleans Saints. It's inevitable unless he's Superman, which is open for discussion, apparently.
Young quarterbacks get a little hurried because the speed of the game has jumped so much, even from the preseason to the regular season. They'll make throws they wish they had back. Or, in Luck's case, they'll assume (we all know how to break down what that means) that they have a free play when the replacement officials are more concerned with remembering what down it is rather than spotting a neutral-zone violation.
Luck must be patient. That's harder when the offensive line has issues, and the Colts have a few.
“He's going to grow, obviously,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said earlier this week. “He did a nice job sliding around in the pocket, buying time, keeping his eyes down the field, making some huge plays. He missed some easy ones and he made tough ones.”
There are some throws he'd like back, Pagano noted, which brings us to the next point.
* Luck must pick his spots. The pass he had intercepted in the end zone was probably a case where he tried to thread the needle a bit too much. There was too much traffic, and the Colts need to maximize points, even if it means field goals. So he has to be more judicious, less Cutleresque, in when to gamble and when to live for another play.
The long interception on the “free play” ball, which was underthrown to Donnie Avery, left skeptics questioning Luck's arm strength. He hasn't had that much time with Avery recently, due to Avery's injury. So timing will come. I'm not sure it was an arm-strength issue as much as a timing issue.
“I was surprised on the underthrow to Donnie,” Colt offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “I thought that was a touchdown. He thought it was a free play, I thought it was a free play, obviously, and just let it go. If you can overthrow Mike Wallace and Donnie Avery, I want to see it. Don't underthrow those guys. Those are good lessons learned.”
* The Colts need more offensive balance. Now this can't really fall solely on Luck's shoulders, since it will require some offensive line blocking and solid running. But Luck can check to the most effective running plays, and he'll learn that more as the season progresses.
The Colts had only 15 running plays against the Bears. Luck threw 18 passes just to Reggie Wayne. Luck was 23 of 45 passing and was sacked three times. That's not likely to win many (any?) games.
“The first three quarters you'd love to be 50-50 (run-pass), and then play the fourth quarter whichever way the game plays out, ahead or behind,” Arians said.
* Luck must continue to have a short memory. Mistakes will happen. Bad throws, bad decisions, will happen. Interceptions will happen. If we learned anything from Manning's rookie season back in 1998, we learned that greatness is honed over time.
I've been impressed by the way Luck has kept an even keel, even when potential great moments fizzle. An example came when he directed a strong end-of-half drive (nice boldness by Pagano) only to have Adam Vinatieri miss a rare field goal. Luck grimaced, then moved on.
This will be a season of unfair expectations and comparisons for Luck. He appears ready to handle it.
Colts fans should give him a little space, accept the new era is developing and see the upside of Luck. He's one of four rookies to throw for 300 yards in his debut. The others: Manning, Cam Newton and RG3.
In closing, I'm tempted to point out that the great Aaron Rodgers threw for only 219 yards vs. the Bears, but the quarterback comparison room is crowded enough already.