Andrew Luck’s Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls

Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff HopefulsThe Indianapolis Colts entered Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers without their head coach and uncertain of the direction this season was taking. Andrew Luck more than answered the call in the big moment, though, establishing the Colts as legitimate playoff contenders.

Luck, the first pick in April’s NFL draft and a superstar coming out of Stanford, took on the responsibility and pressure of leading his teammates to a hard-fought victory, even in the absence of their coach.

Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia, will miss at least six weeks to receive treatment for the disease, a devastating blow to a young, impressionable team. But even without Pagano on the sidelines, Luck excelled and instituted his own form of leadership on the field.

After falling behind the Packers 21-3 at the half, Luck helped interim coach Bruce Arians rally his troops in the locker room and made sure the team knew the game was far from decided. The result was a trio of scores from Luck and a 27-point turnaround that saw Indy knock off the mighty Packers and finally establish an identity for this Colts team.

The victory offered Indianapolis some solace in its pursuit of a
return to the postseason as Luck not only led a fourth-quarter
comeback but, even more importantly, also proved that he has the ever-coveted “clutch gene.”

Luck’s crowning accomplishment at this point in his young career was executing the two-minute drill to perfection against Green Bay. But while Luck’s late-game heroics won over the crowd inside Lucas Oil Stadium, it was the creation of a reliable connection with veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne that stood out most.

Wayne lit up Charles Woodson and the Packers defense for 13 catches and 212 yards, a monster day by any standards. And the 33-year-old, who many had written off after a subpar 2011, suddenly looked like the same guy who hauled in passes from Peyton Manning for so many years.

Still less than a season removed from the end of Manning’s longstanding reign over the Colts franchise, a new sheriff is in town, and he’s already offering many of the same skills Manning had perfected over the years. Luck has already established a firm grasp on Arians’ offensive scheme, and he’s developed important relationships with players like Wayne as he tries to get the transitioning offense in shape quickly.

But production has also been a big key in Indy’s turnaround. Through his first four NFL games, Luck has now thrown for the second-most yards from a rookie quarterback ever — second only to Cam Newton — with 1,208. He’s also thrown seven touchdowns with just five interceptions on the season, helping maintain a solid balance in the turnover game for the Colts.

Luck has now established himself as both a productive quarterback and a leader in this league, and his determination to guide the Colts to success in honor of Pagano is just another sign of his abilities as a leader.

With Luck under center, and hopefully Pagano back on the sidelines soon, Indianapolis is a dangerous team with the talent needed to win. The Super Bowl doesn’t seem like a realistic option at any point this season for Indy, but the playoffs sure seem feasible.

Indy has the pieces to put together a postseason run and really push on from last year’s league cellar-dwellers into this year’s Cinderella story. But that result will require plenty of hard work, a great deal of dedication and a whole lot of Luck.

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1 Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls
    Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls

Andrew Luck, QB, Colts

The Colts may have been down 21-3 at halftime to the visiting Green Bay Packers, but even that sort of demoralizing deficit couldn’t keep Luck and Indy from channeling their “Chuckstrong” motto. The eventual 30-27 win was terrific, especially in honor of head coach Chuck Pagano as he battles leukemia. Luck not only paid homage to his coach with one of the best rookie performances of all time, but he also seems to have found a legit No. 1 target in Reggie Wayne. It was a good win for Indy and what could be only the tip of what is to come for Luck.

2 Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls
    Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls

Drew Brees, QB, Saints

Sean Payton was in the house for some record-setting magic in New Orleans on Sunday night, and Drew Brees made sure to deliver. Brees connected with Devery Henderson on a 40-yard touchdown pass midway through the first quarter as the Saints notched their first win of the season over San Diego, 31-24. That touchdown broke the legendary record set by Johnny Unitas, giving Brees 48 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. The feat is an impressive one and can only be accurately compared to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in Major League Baseball. A tip of the cap to Brees as he made history, but what was even more impressive was the class and grace with which he did it. But I suppose that’s expected at this point.

3 Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls
    Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls

Buffalo Bills Defense

The Buffalo defense allowed 621 yards this week, the second week with 580-plus yards allowed. The Bills have given up 45 and
52 points in the last two weeks. This is getting ugly. Buffalo has also scored only 31 points in the past six quarters. It seems that allowing 580-plus yards each week isn’t a solution for success and may indicate some coming changes in Buffalo. They need something, that’s for sure. Maybe a new coach will do the trick?

4 Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls
    Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls

Kansas City Chiefs Fans

Now, it’s not every Chiefs supporter who deserves the ire of fans, or Eric Winston, for that matter. But the Kansas City faithful who cheered when Matt Cassel went down with a head injury on Sunday should be ashamed. I understand that cheering for a quarterback who has already thrown two interceptions, adding to his already league-leading nine, isn’t very enticing and that Brady Quinn may, for the time being at least, be the most popular man in Kansas City. But at least show some decency and respect for a guy when he’s injured on the field.

5 Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls
    Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls

Chicago Bears Defense

Almost opposite of Buffalo’s struggles, Chicago has had one of the most dominating defensive performances in recent memory over the past two weeks. Lance Briggs and Charles “Peanut” Tillman — I love this nickname — combined to become the first pair of teammates to take interceptions back for touchdowns in consecutive weeks. That was only the start of an incredible defensive showing from the Bears, though, as they held Blaine Gabbert and Jacksonville to 189 yards of total offense and just three points in the 38-point rout. Bravo, gents.

6 Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls
    Andrew Luck's Emergence as Clutch Quarterback Has Colts Looking Like Playoff Hopefuls

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers

While Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles found immediate success in their return from ACL injuries, Mendenhall was forced to wait a few weeks before being given the green light. But once Mendenhall got out on the field on Sunday, he was just as sharp as ever. When the day was done, Mendenhall had gotten the ball 14 times and run for 81 yards and a touchdown to go along with a pair of catches in the Steelers’ 16-14 win. Mendenhall should only continue to improve each week, but if Sunday’s breakout was any indication of what to expect, then Pittsburgh fans are in for a treat. Simply said, Mendenhall looks as good as he ever has in black and gold.

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