INDIANAPOLIS – Andrew Luck failed. We're surprised. Now there's a statement on his impact after little over a year as the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback.
Luck went for a big play when a series of small plays could have changed everything in the Colts' 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. He threw a bad interception at a critical moment. He took a sack – granted, he had only approximately four-fifths of a second to react – on fourth down when anything else would have been better.
Afterward, Luck grimaced a bit at the fresh but far-from-fond memories.
“I don't think I handled a lot of those plays well,” Luck said.
Here's the positive part for Colts fans: Luck has a photographic memory, or close to it. He's driven to learn. He's only 24.
Because Luck has been so good so far, directing eight come-from-behind wins in his 19-game career, we assume he's going to deliver all the time, but especially under pressure. He's so precocious we think he's perfect, or close to it. We forget he's fallible. We forget how young he is in his career.
This type of loss will ultimately be a good lesson for Luck and the Colts. It's regrettable today. Miami is not a Super Bowl contender. But the next time the Colts are in a similar spot, Luck's choices will change.
“Instead of throwing the ball up for grabs, take the underneath guy, get five yards and get in second-and-five instead of second-and-10, third-and-10, fourth-and-10,” Luck said. “So I don't think I managed that particularly well. They did a good job of pressure on that last play. You never want to get sacked on fourth down.”
The fourth-down sack, with 1:27 left and the Colts at the Dolphins' 23-yard line, sealed the loss.
“That's almost one of those cardinal sins, if you will, of playing football,” Luck said. “You've got to get the ball out of your hands, no matter what.”
That play came after incomplete end-zone bound passes to T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen. Go back a previous series and Luck's final pass, from the Dolphins' 34, was a deep ball to Reggie Wayne that was picked off by Brent Grimes. Maybe Grimes held or pushed before the ball's arrival – Wayne says he doesn't remember – but it was not an on-target pass.
“I forced the throw up there,” Luck said.
Luck's overall feelings: “Disappointed, I guess a little angry with myself.”
Those missed chances overshadowed some of the strong plays by Luck and his teammates over the course of the game. That's how the bottom line in the NFL works. When you win, flaws are covered. When you lose, they're exposed.
“He's always real hard on himself, we all are,” Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “We're all professional football players so we expect to be perfect every time. Whenever somebody makes a mistake, it's not easy to just brush it off. It weighs on you a little bit. But you have to get over it.”
The Colts are 1-1 headed into a daunting part of their schedule. They play three legitimate Super Bowl contenders (49ers next Sunday, Seahawks on Oct. 6 and Broncos on Oct. 20) in the next five weeks.
The Colts cannot afford much less than perfection from Luck in those games. It's obvious by now, to anyone who watched the Dolphins roll to 17 first-half points, that the defense has its ups and downs. The offense could be limping a bit, too, given the expected season-ending loss of guard Donald Thomas (quad injury) and the day-to-day status of receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (shoulder injury). The Colts already lost starting running back Vick Ballard, who was missed most when Donald Brown failed to pick up a blitz on Luck's fourth-down sack.
Luck had some big plays against the Dolphins, including more incredible escapes from would-be sacks and scrambles for first downs. His deep completion to Hilton (six catches, 124 yards) will be replayed for some time thanks to Hilton's incredible body control and hands. Luck put the ball in the spot where Hilton could make the play.
But like any young quarterback, some plays are better than others. It's the same for quarters, halves and games.
Indianapolis' offense managed only three second-half points, although a touchdown pass to Coby Fleener was called back by an illegal-shift penalty.
“Nobody's going to have a perfect game,” Wayne said. “I don't think the '72 Dolphins had perfect games. That's just the way it goes. You just hope you can minimize those mistakes and have more big plays than mistakes. That wasn't the case (vs. Miami).”
Luck finished 25-of-43 passing for 321 yards and a touchdown to Fleener. He threw one interception, which was impossible to forget. “That's another play I'd love to have back,” Luck said.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had the statistical edge, completing 23 of 34 for 319 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. So in the battle of second-year quarterbacks, one won and one learned.
“The only thing that this does is prove we are not going undefeated,” Wayne said. “It's a marathon, not a sprint, so hopefully we can look at this film, correct our mistakes and remember this bitter taste that we have and hopefully we can turn this thing around.”
As Luck looked back and talked about his missed chances at the end, you could sense him putting his mistakes to memory. I'd be surprised – shocked, actually – if he makes the same mistakes next time.