INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck is a fine quarterback and a pretty tough critic.
Less than 24 hours after leading the Colts to their fifth win while breaking one rookie record and tying another, the No. 1 overall draft pick walked into the Colts’ locker room Monday and promptly described himself as average. Really.
“A ‘C’ is average, so I think I’d give myself a ‘C’,” Luck said when asked for a grade.
Had Luck used a similar standard in the classroom, he might not have an architectural design degree from Stanford yet.
But there’s nothing average about Luck’s fast start.
After spending the previous two seasons being billed as the NFL’s next big thing, the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up has exceeded the hype over his first eight pro games.
He’s already won three more games than Indy did last season with three veteran quarterbacks. On Sunday, against a good Miami defense, Luck broke Cam Newton’s single-game record for yards passing (432) by throwing for 433 in a 23-20 victory. He also tied the rookie record set by his predecessor, Peyton Manning, for most 300-yard games in a season (four) and continues to maintain the pace for a historic season.
Through eight games, he is 190 of 336 for 2,404 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. At this rate, he would shatter Sam Bradford’s rookie marks for completions (354) and attempts (590) and Newton’s record for yardage (4,051). With a slightly stronger second half, he may even challenge Manning’s rookie record for TD passes (26) and he’s still a long way from approaching Manning’s first-year record for interceptions (28).
He’s already beaten two of the other five rookie starters (Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill) and has surprisingly pushed the Colts into the playoff discussion.
Numbers alone can’t tell the tale. Despite being under heavy pressure, Luck has managed to elude defenders and even shake off Green Bay’s Clay Matthews to make a key pass in a game-winning drive, and he’s rallied the Colts to three fourth-quarter wins.
To teammates, Luck has been everything they expected — and more.
“That guy is mature far beyond his years,” defensive end Fili Moala said. “You can’t say enough good things about him, from him as a human being to him as a football player to him as a teammate. He’s the kind of guy you really want your kids to grow up and become. He’s a professional, he does it with class and he’ll be a good one for years to come.”
The toughest part of this season was supposed to be the endless comparisons to Manning. So far, Luck has had little trouble measuring up.
Manning has exactly the same amount of wins and yardage as Luck this season, though Denver’s quarterback has thrown for twice as many touchdowns and leads the NFL with a quarterback rating of 108.6.
But Luck has had a better rookie season than Manning did.
Luck has thrown and completed more passes in his first eight games, has thrown for 531 more yards, completed a higher percentage of passes than Manning (56.5 percent to 55.1), thrown half as many interceptions (16 to eight), just one fewer touchdown (11 to 10) and has a better quarterback rating than Manning did at that time (79.0 to 64.5).
Of course, the game has changed over the last 14 years. There’s now a bigger premium on passing, rookie quarterbacks play earlier and are expected to win earlier than they did then, too.
While some now contend Luck has more talent around him than Manning did then, they might forget that in ’98, Manning had Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, receiver Marvin Harrison, two veteran tight ends and two tackles who became longtime cornerstones in the Colts’ offense.
Luck, in comparison, has relied primarily on the sure hands of Reggie Wayne; Donnie Avery, who is trying to come back from two lost seasons, an offensive line that is finally rounding into form and a large cast of other rookies.
He’s also had to learn more than Manning did then. Interim coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Manning’s position coach in ’98, has said the Colts’ didn’t use the no-huddle offense extensively until Manning’s second season. Luck is already running that this season.
“There are probably only a few throws he’d like to have back,” said Arians, a 20-year NFL assistant. “He’s kept us in games. He’s won games. The way he’s played in the two-minute phase and now the no-huddle phase has been excellent. He’s been dynamite on third down the last two games.”
Now can he keep it up? The second half of this season begins Thursday at Jacksonville (1-7).
Arians remembers that’s when Manning really took off in 1998, and Luck knows there’s plenty he can improve upon, too.
“The victories are what I judge things on. I think I’ve got to cut down on the turnovers and putting touchdowns on the board,” Luck said. “I think perfect would be to win every game, and not have any incompletions or interceptions.”
If that’s the grading scale, good luck.
But Arians has no problem giving Luck an “A.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Arians said with a chuckle when asked about Luck’s own grade. “He’s comparing him to himself. I’m comparing him to all the other guys I’ve ever had.”