FOXBOROUGH — Enjoy this while you can Patriots fans because Andrew Luck’s growing pains are going to turn into the same pangs of anxiety that popped up when the previous Indianapolis quarterback idol (whatever happened to that guy?) had the ball against your team.
Luck was an architectural design major at Stanford, and in architectural terms his career is still in the blueprint stages. It is an idea sketched out, a vision that still must be constructed with painstaking care.
Some day, Luck is going to be a full-fledged franchise quarterback with a Ph.D. in passing like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Right now, he’s just an eager undergrad with a lot to learn. Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his defense gleefully participated in the education of a quarterback Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Like his young team, Luck got a failing grade, as the Patriots crushed the Colts, 59-24, forcing four turnovers, all of which were committed by Luck and led to 21 Patriots points.
“We’ll get better. We’ll learn from the mistakes,” said Luck. “You realize you can’t make those if want to have a chance to beat a quality team like the Patriots.”
Eventually, Luck will look back on days like Sunday and smirk at how little he knew about the NFL and how much he has learned. Right now, he’s still an NFL neophyte, his inexperience as apparent as his talent. Both were on full display Sunday.
Luck, who was 27 of 50 for 334 yards with two touchdowns, three interceptions and a fumble, reached another milestone — his fifth 300-yard passing game of his rookie season, breaking Manning’s record for 300-yard outings by a rookie.
But it was the four turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, that were the millstone hanging around the No. 1 pick’s neck after this one.
Luck sits at the confluence of past, present, and future. He is breaking Manning’s past records. In the present, he has the Colts, who came in as winners of four straight, in the thick of the wild-card hunt in the AFC. In the future, he could win Super Bowls and MVPs.
But yesterday all he had was a painful loss.
The lasting image of Indianapolis’s passing prodigy is him prone on his stomach in front of the Patriots sideline, banging his hand into the synthetic turf three times after failing to catch Alfonzo Dennard, who took Luck’s second interception 87 yards for a touchdown that put the Patriots up 45-17 with 14:47 to go.
It was a display of self-flagellation and obvious expression of frustration on a day that reminded him how long the road to elite QB is.
“Every week is a learning experience for him,” said Colts interim coach Bruce Arians. “We have a lot of rookies out there, so every week is a learning experience. It was a bad learning experience. Two high throws cost him. He needs to protect just a little bit longer on the fumble. It was a lot better day than the first day Peyton Manning came up here. I was here that day.”
Manning’s first game against the Patriots he, too, had four turnovers. In a 29-6 loss in Foxborough in 1998, Manning was 21 of 33 for 188 yards with a touchdown pass, three interceptions, and a lost fumble. One of his interceptions was returned 59 yards for a touchdown by Ty Law, one of Law’s two picks of Peyton.
That’s just one of the many similarities between Manning and Luck. They’re both precocious passers. They’re both the sons of former NFL quarterbacks. They’re both No. 1 overall picks. It’s a good bet that there will be more parallels to come.
Colts kicker and Patriots legend Adam Vinatieri has played with Brady and Manning. He said Luck has similar qualities.
“Oh, for sure. Andrew has got all of the abilities, physical and mental, leadership-wise,” said Automatic Adam. “He is turning into a very, very good quarterback, and he’s going to continue to grow and keep on getting better. He’s fun to watch play. Obviously, we got a young team, and we all make mistakes. But it’s enjoyable watching him play because I know at any given time he can go out and put a bunch of points on the board.”
Early on it looked like the Patriots could be victims of Luck’s rookie run. He had the Colts up, 14-7, as Indy carved up the Patriots’ defense like a Thanksgiving turkey. The Patriots tied the game on a 68-yard punt return by Julian Edelman.
Then Luck saw his good fortune run a go route. He threw a high ball intended for Reggie Wayne that was picked off by the Patriots’ secondary savior Aqib Talib, who weaved across the field for a 59-yard touchdown.
Coming into the game, Luck had thrown two touchdowns and seven interceptions in four road games. He had lost three fumbles. Luck had thrown eight touchdowns against just two interceptions at home in five games. He had lost just one fumble.
Two plays tell the tale of a rookie who can do the improbable one minute and then the unbearable the next. Luck’s best play of the day was completing a 16-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton on third and 12 with Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich hanging off of him like a wool scarf.
But later in that period, Ninkovich strip-sacked Luck, leading to a Brady-to-Gronkowski touchdown that put the Patriots up, 38-17.
It’s the type of mistake that Luck won’t make so easily years from now.
“I hope not. I can’t tell the future, but I hope not,” said Luck.
Neither can I, but I know that Luck’s future is brighter than Xenon headlights.
Beat him while you can, Patriots. It’s not always going to be this easy.Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.