INDIANAPOLIS — Growing up, Andrew Luck kept trying to emulate the quarterbacks he watched on Sunday afternoons, guys like Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers.
And Tom Brady.
Now, the 24-year-old franchise quarterback is all grown up and about to face his next big test — trying to beat Brady on his home turf with a trip to the AFC championship game on the line.
“I think there are so many quarterbacks that do so many great things that as a quarterback you’d like to watch all of them and say, âThey do this so well,’ and see if you can do that,” Luck said Tuesday.
His next chance comes Saturday night when the Colts (12-5) travel to New England (12-4).
Luck has already done his part to live up to the seemingly impossible standards that came with replacing Manning in Indy. The two-time Heisman Trophy runner up spent two college seasons being called everything from the most polished college quarterback since Manning to the most promising quarterback prospect at Stanford since John Elway.
Luck just focused on playing his game and the results have been impressive.
He has thrown for more yards (8,196) in his first two seasons than any quarterback in NFL history. His 22 regular-season wins rank No. 2 to Russell Wilson among all second-year quarterbacks since 1970, and with nine career TDs rushing, he already ranks fourth on the franchise’s career list behind only Manning (17), Bert Jones (14) and John Unitas (13) — all previous MVPs
Even when it comes to measuring up to Manning, Luck has done remarkably well.
In October, he beat Manning in their first head-to-head meeting. And after rallying Indianapolis (12-5) to the second-greatest comeback in playoff history last weekend, Luck’s first postseason win came four seasons sooner than Manning’s. A win over the Patriots (12-4) would give Luck the same total of playoff wins over Brady than Manning — one. But that’s not what motivates Luck.
“He studies so much tape and prepares himself so well that he’s able to identify and see things, even if it was a year ago,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “He’s got that, probably what Tom has and what Peyton has and all the great ones have, is the ability to identify and see things and put things behind him and move on.”
That ability to move on is perhaps the reason Luck is still playing in January.
Last week, after throwing interceptions on consecutive passes, Luck managed to shake off the bad throws.
Down 38-10 early in the third quarter, he steadily moved the Colts back into contention and when he hooked up with T.Y. Hilton on a 64-yard TD pass with 4:21 to go, Indy suddenly had a 45-44 lead. The defense held off Kansas City’s last-gasp drive, giving Luck the chance to savor his historic comeback by taking a knee three straight times.
Things are bound to be much tougher this time around as the Colts and Patriots renew what has been one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries over the last decade.
Brady won his first six starts against the Colts, a span that included two playoff games. Manning answered by winning five of the next six, including the 2006 AFC championship game when he rallied Indy from an 18-point deficit. Brady and the Patriots have won the last three, including last year’s forgettable 59-24 rout in frosty New England when Luck was picked off three times and lost a fumble. It was so bad Pagano said he wanted to “burn” the tape.
To Luck, Saturday’s game is all about advancing in the playoffs against a team and quarterback that have played their best football when it matters most.
“He has definitely set the standard for success,” Luck said of Brady. “The way he handles himself, watching from afar, the competitive nature and basically all the right things he does. Yeah, I guess he is a barometer and he is the standard.”