FOXBOROUGH — In this era of Twitter, Facebook, and TMZ, many things are hyped and overhyped. The urgency to fill every news feed makes it hard to figure out which things and which people are truly special.
Long before he ever set foot on an NFL field, before the Colts made him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft this year, Andrew Luck was pegged as special — the once-in-a-decade (or so) quarterback Peyton Manning was considered to be when Indianapolis drafted him in 1998.
It takes more than half a season to determine whether a quarterback truly is great. To this point in his very young career, however, Luck has shown he might be as good as advertised.
Luck’s numbers for the 6-3 Colts, who are getting into position to claim a wild-card berth after winning just two games last year, aren’t stellar: He has completed 57.5 percent of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions; they are better, however, than those of veterans Mark Sanchez of the Jets and Matt Cassel of the Chiefs, and similar to those of Chicago’s Jay Cutler, whose team leads the NFC North.
But what Luck excels at, even as an NFL neophyte, doesn’t show up in game books.
“Just his demeanor,” said Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington. “It’s something that’s hard to coach. Great, great presence on the field, is always poised, and just has great leadership qualities.
“You can tell his team has rallied behind him, starting early in the season.”
Vince Wilfork agreed.
“He doesn’t look like a rookie,” said the Patriots defensive tackle. “The plays he makes downfield and the plays he makes with his feet, it’s crucial plays, big plays. And you know what? They’re responding. His wide receivers are responding well. His offensive line is responding well. His backs are responding well.”
Luck showed that he was a player his teammates could follow in Week 2. In the Colts’ home opener, they were tied, 20-20, with Minnesota after giving up two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Colts took over with 31 seconds on the clock, and Luck completed back-to-back 20-yard passes to Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne, putting his team at the Minnesota 40.
A Vikings offsides penalty got the Colts 5 more yards. Out of timeouts and with 13 seconds left, Luck spiked the ball and put the game on the foot of the ageless Adam Vinatieri, who made a 53-yard field goal for the win.
Three weeks later, Indianapolis was down, 21-3, at halftime against Green Bay, and Luck rallied the team to a 30-27 win. He threw for 362 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another.
A 4-yard end zone pass to Wayne with 35 seconds remaining completed the comeback, making Luck just the fourth rookie quarterback in more than 50 years to lead his team back from an 18-point deficit to win.
Devin McCourty is impressed by Luck’s “awareness and just overall knowledge of the game.”
The Patriots defensive back said, “You expect him to make some mistakes — when you watch the film, you’d say, ‘Oh, that was a simple [mistake]’ — but that doesn’t happen a lot.
“I think that he knows what’s going on around him, he’s aware of everything. Everyone already knew all of the physical tools are there, so you put that together with a guy that’s grasping the game quickly, it’s tough.
“I think he makes a lot of the right plays for them, and that’s why they’ve been able to stick in games and win at the end.”
Wayne, who was Mr. Reliable for Manning and has been that for Luck as well, leads the NFL with 69 receptions. But Avery, tight end Dwayne Allen, receiver T.Y. Hilton, and tight end Coby Fleener (whom Luck played with at Stanford) all have more than 20 receptions, so Luck isn’t focused solely on Wayne.
“You would think a rookie with a guy like Reggie Wayne would only throw to him, but he targets really all of those guys,” McCourty said. “He gets the ball to them, he likes to throw to the tight ends in there, so really when you watch, at different situations he gets the ball out to almost everybody.
“Avery and T.Y. Hilton have made some big catches down the field, so we really have to defend everyone but really you have to know where Reggie is.”
Luck also can create opportunities because of his running ability; he has five rushing touchdowns thus far, and half of his 34 carries have gone for first downs, which makes him tougher to defend.
“You can’t let him sit in the pocket and let him get comfortable,” said defensive end Chandler Jones. “He’s done a phenomenal job and it’s our job to make him feel uncomfortable.
“When you get to him, you’ve got to get him down. You can’t let him throw the ball.”
All of which means the Patriots defense won’t be facing a wide-eyed rookie Sunday.