The Colts’ comeback against the Chiefs last Saturday night was unprecedented in the NFL. Down by 28 at one point, Indianapolis rallied to overcome this deficit and win the game in regulation. As Andy Dalton is learning right now, the praise and the blame will always fall heaviest on the quarterback’s shoulders. Let the Andrew Luck hysteria commence.
In truth, the legend of Andrew Luck did not begin with his quick-thinking recovery of a Donald Brown fumble and dive into the endzone. It started many years before at Stanford where he was enveloped by hype. Analysts had never rated a college quarterback so highly going into a draft. NFL teams were embarking on a ‘suck for Luck’ campaign in the hope that they might secure the services of a man already anointed as a future Hall-of-Famer.
Immediately following last week’s playoff victory, the message was simple: Andrew Luck is a winner. He just always finds a way to win. He has ‘it’. He is the ‘winner guy’. A stat to back this up? In his first two seasons, during the regular season and the playoffs, his record in one-score games (i.e. games decided by 8 points or less) is 16-2.
This is a very impressive stat. It would be extremely difficult to detract from this in any way. Difficult, but not impossible.
Firstly, of the 16 wins under Luck’s belt, 11 of them came at home. Only 5 of the 16 teams that the Colts beat had a winning record and, indeed, none of the Colts’ 5 road victories were against teams above .500. The combined record of the defeated teams? 114-142 (.450). Incidentally, the 2 defeats on Luck’s resume were suffered at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2012 season (2-14 record) and the Miami Dolphins in Week 13 of this season (8-8 record).
In 3 of these 16 wins, Luck did not throw a single touchdown pass. In a further 4 games, Luck threw only one touchdown pass. This means that ‘winner guy’ Luck threw for one or fewer touchdowns in 44% of these close games. You would be forgiven for speculating that these games would not have been so close in the first place had Luck been able to throw more than one touchdown.
In the two games that Luck did throw an impressive four touchdowns (against the Lions in 2012 and the Chiefs last week), Luck also threw three interceptions apiece. We can confidently say that Luck is the reason for these marginal victories, but is this a genuine compliment or a back-handed one? It is a fine line.
Andrew Luck clearly displays an immense amount of potential. He is smart and incredibly hard-working. He can make all the throws and he is a better athlete, especially on the run, than people realise. But we should not get ahead of ourselves. His quarterback rating in 2012 was 76.5 (26th in the league). To put this in context, he was marginally ahead of Ryan Tannehill (76.1) and marginally behind Blaine Gabbert (77.4). He was significantly behind his rookie counterparts RGIII (102.4) and Russell Wilson (100). He was also behind Ryan Fitzpatrick (85.3) and Josh Freeman (81.6); neither of which are likely to start in the league next season.
His growth this season has been noticeable, but not exponential. His quarterback rating is 87 which is good for 18th in the league. He is behind the much-maligned apparent lost cause that is Andy Dalton (88.8). He is also considerably behind Russell Wilson (101.2) and only four places ahead of RGIII (82.2) despite the latter’s ‘disastrous’ and ‘disappointing’ season.
The NFL is a game of fine margins. The Chiefs were forced to endure an unremitting amount of injuries that stretched them beyond breaking point. Yet, they may still have won the game had Dwayne Bowe exhibited slightly better awareness and kept his feet in bounds on an important play. Questions are now being asked of Aaron Rodgers while Colin Kaepernick basks in the plaudits following the 49ers’ win at Lambeau Field. But Kaepernick could have been picked off three times during the game, including on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. If a defender does his job, the storyline changes dramatically. Similarly, if Giovani Bernard does not fumble in the redzone for the Bengals at a crucial time, maybe Andy Dalton is still a franchise quarterback today. Maybe he too would have finally made the transition to ‘winner guy’.
Following the Donald Brown fumble it was apt that fortune smiled on a man named Luck. The golfer Arnold Palmer famously said “the more I practice, the luckier I get”. No doubt, Luck’s reactions were lightening quick; an instinct developed from thousands of hours of practice. It created a moment of magic that will be forever enshrined in NFL history. A legacy, however, is different. It takes more than a moment. It takes a superbowl or two. Just ask Tony Romo. And, in fact, ask any quarterback in the league not named Manning, Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Roethlisberger or Flacco.
By Ognjen Miletic