Just as Andrew Luck kept absorbing more lessons from the New England branch of the school of hard knocks, so I hung in there and resisted changing the channel.
The Indianapolis Colts' 59-24 loss to the Patriots on Sunday in Foxboro, Mass., was every bit as ugly as the final score would indicate. But, ultimately, it should become valuable in the “Education of Andrew Luck,” both for the man himself and for those who watch him from afar.
Surely we knew deep down that no rookie goes into Tom Brady's house, sits down on his couch, puts his feet up, cracks open a cold one and says, “How ya doin', Tommy?” Surely we knew that Brady, in the role of expert (insert your own Jedi or other cultural analogy here), would remind young Luck that he has much to discover and master in the (deeper voiceover now) National Football League.
But maybe we got fooled just a bit by a 6-3 record and some feel-good vibes of national media attention.
The positive news is that the Colts (6-4) remain in the AFC playoff picture, with some opponents they can beat, starting at home against Buffalo next Sunday.
Here's what else should come out of this mess: Luck will learn from it.
Every step of the way in this season, the rookie quarterback has been three-fourths phenomenon, one-fourth greenhorn.
He makes throws that defy his age and experience, such as his pinpoint perfect, low-enough and away-enough touchdown pass to the sliding T.Y. Hilton when things were going the Colts' way early Sunday. Or he somehow muscles out of a sure sack by Rob Ninkovich and completes a pass.
But then then Luck sails a pass over Reggie Wayne, or forces one too quickly to the sidelines to Wayne and ends up with a couple pick-sixes and mentally beats himself up as he trudges to the sidelines.
Luck still does other things rookies often do. He tries to force a pass between two or three defenders. He scrambles into trouble sometimes when he should throw it away and live for another play. He holds the ball a shade too long and gets hit/stripped from behind.
These are all lessons, painful ones when you end up giving the Patriots 21 points where Brady didn't even touch the ball. Two of those scores were on Luck (the pick-sixes) and the other was a Julian Edelman punt return. Edelman was not a name Colts fans enjoyed hearing Sunday.
Brady, meanwhile, barely felt any pressure from the relatively healthy Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. He completed 24 of 35 for 331 yards, three scores and no picks, and realized early that the Colts' defense had no answer for packages big (Rob Gronkowski, seven catches for 137 yards, one broken forearm) or small (Edelman and Wes Welker, a combined 12 catches for 138 yards).
Brady was the cool veteran as we know him. Luck was the hot and cold rookie who isn't helped sometimes when his young targets drop balls.
Playing on the road is a bear, no question. Luck finished 27 of 50 passing for 334 yards (an NFL rookie record fifth game over 300) with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Luck has 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The splits are clear: He has four TDs and 10 picks on the road. It's tougher with hostile crowds, energized defenses and different, yet-to-be-experienced defensive schemes.
Colts fans have come to expect Luck to be much better than the average rookie, and he has fulfilled those expectations for the most part. That's why those moments where he falters come as such a surprise. If he would have gone into New England and had his way against the Patriots – even a subpar Patriots defense – that would have been the bigger surprise.
The 87-yard interception return touchdown by Alfonzo Dennard was some rookie carelessness. Luck has to get points when the Colts get that deep into the red zone. He must avoid higher-risk or rushed throws.
“You can't throw them that late and he knows it,” Colts interim coach Bruce Arians told reporters afterward. “We talked about it and he was mad at himself. And that is the beauty of him.”
Luck is learning, but his NFL orientation course continues. More assignments are on the way, and he'll need to continue his homework, review time and self-evaluation.
The Colts lost at New England, lost more thoroughly than most expected. It was a painful lesson in NFL hierarchy. First-year rebuilding teams don't win in New England. Heck, elite teams rarely win in New England.
Luck and the Colts should review, wince and move on. Their primary goal before New England – making the playoffs – hasn't changed. If they can get there, Luck will be able to earn some extra credit, something no other No.1-drafted quarterback has ever done.
It's back to class now.