INDIANAPOLIS -- The verdict remains out on the theme for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck's first season in the NFL. It's down to two choices:
* Andrew Luck: Running for his life.
* Andrew Luck: Peyton Manning with wheels.
Actually, it could end up being a mixture of the two. Yes, it appears Luck will be running for his life most of this season. Good thing he has the wheels to avoid harm most of the time. And, like Manning before him, he might have a knack for late-game heroics.
After the Colts squandered a two-touchdown lead, Luck set up Adam Vinatieri for a 53-yard field goal with eight seconds left to give the Colts a 23-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
It's Luck's first win – and coach Chuck Pagano's first, and half the roster's first, more or less – and perhaps the start of his legacy as a prime-time player.
“He did awesome today,” Vinatieri said. “He led the offense down the field in a lot of different drives. His composure is great. When you have a guy like Jared Allen chasing you for your life, watching him just stay composed and keep on doing things – that last drive was picture perfect.”
It wasn't quite perfect, in retrospect. Luck spiked the ball to stop the clock when it was already stopped. But that's was a minor miscue, a rookie brain freeze. The greatness was evident in what led to Vinatieri's kick – Luck's clutch calmness. (Or would it be calm clutchness? I'll have to get a ruling on that.)
Despite the fact the Colts offense had stagnated in the second half with four consecutive punts, Luck stayed calm. Despite the fact Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder had turned a 20-6 deficit into a 20-20 tie (with a lucky ricochet TD pass to Stephen Burton and a TD strike to former Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph), Luck stayed calm.
Despite momentum tilting completely in the Vikings' direction, Luck stayed calm.
“It's just amazing that the guy is be able to go out there and do the things he does as a rookie,” Pagano said. “Obviously, we've talked many times before that he never acts like that. He certainly didn't in that situation.”
Late in the first half, Luck had led the Colts 64 yards in 64 seconds (That could be a catchy theme, no?), hitting Reggie Wayne for a 30-yard touchdown pass to build a 17-6 halftime lead.
But considerably more pressure sat on his shoulders in the final drive. The Colts took over at their own 20. They needed to get a good 45-50 yards to be in Vinatieri range. Luck hit Donnie Avery, a new favorite, for 20 yards. Then he hit Wayne, a true favorite, for another 20 yards. He then found Avery for seven, but the Colts opted to accept a penalty on the Vikings instead.
Enter Vinatieri, who's seen a clutch moment or 20. He drilled the 53-yard line drive with eight seconds left. It was the longest game-winner of his career. Disaster averted.
“It would have been a devastating deal (to lose) on many levels,” Pagano said.
Luck, who finished with 20 of 31 passing for 224 yards and two scores, didn't let it happen. He's clearly going to have his moments this season when he makes mistakes, such as taking a 22-yard sack instead of throwing the ball out of bounds. But it'd be hard to find those watching closely who think the good moments won't far outnumber the bad.
“I was just glad for another chance,” Luck said of the final drive. “We had so many opportunities in the second half to put a drive together, run the clock out, do whatever, so I was just glad for a chance.”
The Colts' hobbled offense line took a hit when center Samson Satele left the game shortly before halftime with a knee injury. Mike McGlynn moved over from right guard to center, with Fort Wayne native Trai Essex taking McGlynn's spot. Essex signed with the Colts earlier in the week.
Suffice it to say there were protection problems. But Luck continues to be the type of player that doesn't believe in either excuses or worrying about what might go wrong. We can debate Luck's arm strength, although he hit Avery on a 41-yarder similar to last week's failed attempt. This time, it set up a TD pass to rookie Dwayne Allen. Avery caught nine passes for 111 yards while Wayne had six for 71 yards.
What's becoming less of a debate is Luck's acumen for the job he's assumed.
“He's incredibly poised and mature for a guy in his second professional game,” Essex said. “It's amazing how mature he is. I can't give him enough praise. For him to come in and do that in the last minute – a lot of guys older than him can't make the plays he did, especially with the pressure coming down on him.”
The pressure was on. Luck was running for his life, and throwing for a win.
Imagine how he'll play if he ever has any time after the snap to think.